Battles of the Western Front

  • Militaires du 124e régiment d'infanteraie, photographiés en 1914 à Laval

    Militaires du 124e régiment d'infanteraie, photographiés en 1914 à Laval

    © Archives départementales de Mayenne

  • Soldats français dans la tranchée

    Soldats français dans la tranchée

    © Colin Miege

  • Photographie parue dans le journal l'Excelsior du mrecredi 25 novembre 1914

    Photographie parue dans le journal l'Excelsior du mrecredi 25 novembre 1914

    © Caudrilleirs/Excelsior-L'equipe/Roger-Viollet

  • Ravin de Jolival. 8 mai 1916. Meuse

    Ravin de Jolival. 8 mai 1916. Meuse

    © Collections Musée Clémenceau, Paris

  • 27/10/1917. Nettoyage du champ de batailles par les boches (Lafflux, Aisne)

    27/10/1917. Nettoyage du champ de batailles par les boches (Lafflux, Aisne)

    © Casa de la Imagen

  • 3/3/1918. Mrache sous la neige à Combles (Somme)

    3/3/1918. Mrache sous la neige à Combles (Somme)

    © Casa de la Imagen

Battles of the Western Front

1914 : manoeuvre warfare gets bogged down

In summer 1914, all of Europe is convinced that the war will be a short one. As it must fight on two fronts, the German army wants to quickly beat France in the West, before turning to Russia in the East. By the end of August on the Western Front, the French offensive in Lorraine has failed while the German offensive conducted through Belgium (Charleroi, Mons) succeeds. This Battle of Frontiers forces the French army to retreat. Paris is threatened, but in September, the Battle of the Marne allows Allied troops to push back the German advance. Each army then tries to outflank the other in direction of the North Sea, through the Battles of Aisne and Ypres. This Race for the Sea ends without a victor in November. A continuous front is established along the North Sea to the Vosges, and the armies face one another, burying themselves into trenches. Manoeuvre warfare is over, and attrition warfare begins.

1915-1917: a time for exceedingly deadly and futile offensives

As of 1915, the Allied attempts to break the front, including the Champagne and Artois offensives, are extremely ineffective and casualty-filled. Throughout the same year, the Vosges front is also taken by intense fighting, without either side gaining any advantage. During the Battle of the Somme, which lasts from July to November 1916, the British lose 500,000 men for an advance of only a few kilometres. The German army, on its end, tries to wear out the French army by forcing it to resist fiercely in Verdun. This battle, which sees no victor, lasts all of 1916 and results in some 160,000 French and 140,000 Germans to fall in combat. Failure continues in 1917. During the Chemin des Dames (or the Nivelle) offensive in April, 40,000 French soldiers are killed in two weeks, and the British army loses some 250,000 men from July to November, in the Battle of Passchendaele.

1918 : a return to the manoeuvre warfare and the final offensives

After signing for peace with the new Russian Bolshevik power on March 3, 1917, the Germans no longer have to fight on the Eastern front. They thus decide to resume manoeuvre warfare in the west and launch several large offensives, notably in Picardy. The German army hopes to break through the front before the American troops have time to return the advantage to the Allies. They are close to succeeding yet the Allied forces, under the sole command of General Foch, resist and manage to counter-attack in the summer, in the second Battle of the Marne. Helped by the American army in Meuse and Argonne, they take the definite advantage. Their advance ends only with the signing of the armistice, on November 11.

More information