".. all this madness, all this rage, all this flaming death of our civilization and our hopes, has been brought about because a set of official gentlemen, living luxurious lives, mostly stupid, and all without imagination or heart, have chosen that it should occur rather than that any one of them should suffer some infinitesimal rebuff to his country`s pride."
-- British philosopher Bertrand Russell, 1914
"I look upon the People and the Nation as handed on to me as an responsibility conferred upon me by God, and I believe, as it is written in the Bible, that it is my duty to increase this heritage for which one day I shall be called upon to give an account. Whoever tries to interfere with my task I shall crush."
-- German Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1913
German soldiers on the Russian front. Yes! There was an Eastern Front during WW1 too! But the fighting was not so ferocious as in the next war. February 1915, just before the German winter-offensive started in heavy snowstorms
"In the account book of the Great War the page recording the Russian losses has been ripped out. The figures are unknown. Five millions, or eight? We ourselves know not. All we know is that, at times, fighting the Russians, we had to remove the piles of enemy bodies from before our trenches, so as to get a clear field of fire against new waves of assault."
German Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg, 1917
GERMANY'S SCHLIEFFEN PLANGerman soldiers march into Poland on bicycles.
Germany had been preparing for war long before 1914. In fact, Germany had started drawing up a plan for war - the Schlieffen Plan - in 1897.
Germany's plan for war was the Schlieffen Plan. It took nine years to finalise, but it was based on the theory that Germany would be at war with France and Russia at the same time. It did not prepare for many of the events that occured in July and August 1914. It was based on the belief that, if the country went to war, Germany would be faced with a war on two fronts with France and Russia.
The plan assumed that France was weak and could be beaten quickly, and that Russia was much stronger, but would take longer to mobilise its army.
The plan began to go wrong on 30 July 1914, when Russia mobilised its army, but France did not. Germany was forced to invent a pretext to declare war on France (3 August 1914).
Things got worse when Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914 because, in a Treaty of 1839, Britain had promised to defend Belgium.
* The plan was the work of the German army chief-of-staff Alfred von Schlieffen.
* It took nine years to devise - it was started in 1897, presented in 1905, and revised in 1906.
* The plan imagined a huge hammer-blow at Paris, using 90 per cent of the German army, swinging down through Belgium and northern France, to take out France in a quick, decisive campaign.
* It was a plan of attack - for Germany, mobilisation and war were the same thing.
* It was Germany's only plan for war.
* It did not plan for a situation where Germany was at war with Russia, but not with France. When the German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg asked: "Is the Fatherland in danger?", the German general Moltke declared: "Yes".
* In the event, Russia took only ten days to mobilise, and Moltke was forced to send some troops to the eastern front, which weakened the main attack on Paris.
* When the German army asked permission to go through Belgium on 2 August 1914, the Belgians refused, so the German army had to fight its way through Belgium. This slowed it down and tired the soldiers.
* Britain's decision to uphold the 1839 Treaty with Belgium amazed the Germans. "For a scrap of paper, Great Britain is going to make war?" said the amazed Bethmann-Hollweg.
* In the event, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) arrived to resist the Germans, and held them up at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. With his army exhausted and many of his best forces killed, Moltke was defeated at the battle of the Marne on 6-10 September 1914. "Sir, we have lost the war," he told the Kaiser.
There was no really good true war book during the entire four years of the war. The only true writing that came through during the war was in poetry. One reason for this is that poets are not arrested as quickly as prose writers.Ernest Hemingway, in "Men at War"
The road to Paris is chock-a-bock with soldiers and fleeing civilians.
QUOTESGermans lay down rules of occupation in Antwerp, Belgium. They were quite harsh.
"At all times, except when a monarch could enforce his will, war has been facilitated by the fact that vigorous males, confident of victory, enjoyed it, while their females admired them for their prowess."
-- Philosopher Bertrand Russell, in 'In Praise of Idleness'
GERMANS MOVE THROUGH BELGIUM (From Eyewitnesstohistory.com)
German juggernaut smashed its way into Belgium on August 5, initially targeting Belgium's line of defensive fortresses. The Belgian army was forced to retreat and by August 20 the Germans entered Brussels on its way to France. The Belgians elected not to defend the city and the Germans marched through unhindered.
Richard Harding Davis was an American newspaper reporter and witnessed the German army's march through the city. We join his account as he sits at a boulevard café waiting for the German arrival:
"The change came at ten in the morning. It was as though a wand had waved and from a fete-day on the Continent we had been wafted to London on a rainy Sunday. The boulevards fell suddenly empty. There was not a house that was not closely shuttered. Along the route by which we now knew the Germans were advancing, it was as though the plague stalked. That no one should fire from a window, that to the conquerors no one should offer insult, Burgomaster Max sent out as special constables men he trusted. Their badge of authority was a walking-stick and a piece of paper fluttering from a buttonhole. These, the police, and the servants and caretakers of the houses that lined the boulevards alone were visible.
At eleven o'clock, unobserved but by this official audience, down the Boulevard Waterloo came the advance-guard of the German army. It consisted of three men, a captain and two privates on bicycles. Their rifles were slung across their shoulders, they rode unwarily, with as little concern as the members of a touring-club out for a holiday. Behind them so close upon each other that to cross from one sidewalk to the other was not possible, came the Uhlans [cavalry], infantry, and the guns. For two hours I watched them, and then, bored with the monotony of it, returned to the hotel. After an hour, from beneath my window, I still could hear them; another hour and another went by. They still were passing.
Boredom gave way to wonder. The thing fascinated you, against your will, dragged you back to the sidewalk and held you there open-eyed. No longer was it regiments of men marching, but something uncanny, inhuman, a force of nature like a landslide, a tidal wave, or lava sweeping down a mountain. It was not of this earth, but mysterious, ghostlike. It carried all the mystery and menace of a fog rolling toward you across the sea.
The German army moved into Brussels as smoothly and as compactly as an Empire State express. There were no halts, no open places, no stragglers. For the gray automobiles and the gray motorcycles bearing messengers one side of the street always was kept clear; and so compact was the column, so rigid the vigilance of the file-closers, that at the rate of forty miles an hour a car could race the length of the column and need not stop - for never did a single horse or man once swerve from its course.
All through the night, like a tumult of a river when it races between the cliffs of a canyon, in my sleep I could hear the steady roar of the passing army. And when early in the morning I went to the window the chain of steel was still unbroken. It was like the torrent that swept down the Connemaugh Valley and destroyed Johnstown. This was a machine, endless, tireless, with the delicate organization of a watch and the brute power of a steam roller. And for three days and three nights through Brussels it roared and rumbled, a cataract of molten lead. The infantry marched singing, with their iron-shod boots beating out the time. They sang Fatherland, My Fatherland. Between each line of song they took three steps. At times 2000 men were singing together in absolute rhythm and beat. It was like blows from giant pile-drivers. When the melody gave way the silence was broken only by the stamp of iron-shod boots, and then again the song rose. When the singing ceased the bands played marches. They were followed by the rumble of the howitzers, the creaking of wheels and of chains clanking against the cobblestones, and the sharp, bell-like voices of the bugles.
More Uhlans followed, the hoofs of their magnificent horses ringing like thousands of steel hammers breaking stones in a road; and after them the giant siege-guns rumbling, growling, the mitrailleuses [machine guns] with drag-chains ringing, the field-pieces with creaking axles, complaining brakes, the grinding of the steel-rimmed wheels against the stones echoing and re-echoing from the house front. When at night for an instant the machine halted, the silence awoke you, as at sea you wake when the screw stops.
For three days and three nights the column of gray, with hundreds of thousands of bayonets and hundreds of thousands of lances, with gray transport wagons, gray ammunition carts, gray ambulances, gray cannon, like a river of steel, cut Brussels in two.
Richard Harding Davis' account appears in: Downey, Fairfax, Richard Harding Davis: His Day (1933); Keegan, John, The First World War (1999).
German airplane goes to bomb Paris. These were feared objects.
"This war is really the greatest insanity in which white races have ever been engaged."
German Admiral von Tirpitz, in a letter to his wife, October 1914
When Paris did not fall, the disappointed Germans fell back. After the Battle of the Marne the Germans retreated to the river Aisne. It was here that the frontline stabilised and where the armies were going to dig in themselves. The trench warfare began.
The German soldiers look quite sullen here. He had reason to be. After weeks of long marches and numerous fights the German advance towards Paris came to a stand-still.
"The wood of the walnut - Juglans regia L. - is reckoned among the finest there is. It is used for furniture and floors and, alas, it is also very suitable for making rifle-butts. During the First Worldwar many of the old walnut-forests in Europe were cut down for the production of these rifle-butts."
Dutch biologist Wouter de Herder, in a book on trees in Europe
QUOTESGerman soldiers in trenches in France. A German unit during the Battle of the Marne.
"Against the vast majority of my countrymen, even at this moment, in the name of humanity and civilization, I protest against our share in the destruction of Germany. A month ago Europe was a peaceful comity of nations; if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot, who has deserved well of his country. "
British philosopher Bertrand Russell, in a letter to the paper The Nation, 15 August, 1914
Near the river Marne the German invasion was brought to a stand. 1914.
"I didn't get much peace, but I heard in Norway that Russia might well become a huge market for tractors soon."
Henry Ford, when returning from his unofficial peace mission, December 24, 1915
Farewells as the soldiers go to the front.
QUOTESGerman soldiers on their way to Paris, 1914
"The old lady told me that all the girls in the village of Annezin prayed every night for the War to end, and for the English to go away - as soon as their money was spent. And that the clause about the money was always repeated in case God should miss it."
Robert Graves, in "Good-bye to all that"
"Never had the machine-gunners such straightforward work to do nor done it so unceasingly. The men stood on the firestep, some even on the parapets, and fired exultantly into the mass of men advancing across the open grassland. As the entire field of fire was covered with the enemy's infantry the effect was devastating and they could be seen falling in hundreds."
German Regimental Diarist, after the Battle of Loos, September 1915
(in the Battle of Loos 8,246 British soldiers - out of nearly 10,000 - were killed or wounded in just three hours)
-- Rare German WW1 pictures: Part 2
-- Rare German WW1 pictures: Part 3