WAR OF AT­TRI­TION

How Ger­many’s goal of a swift vic­tory turned into stale­mate along the Western Front.

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - — Mark Collin Reid

Soon after the war broke out in Au­gust 1914, both sides dug in. The en­su­ing trench war­fare would cost mil­lions of lives on both sides of the con­flict.

Ger­many en­tered the First World War with the ex­pec­ta­tion that it could quickly knock France out of the con­flict and then turn its at­ten­tion to its other ma­jor en­emy, Rus­sia.

Do­ing so was cru­cial to avoid­ing what Ger­many’s mil­i­tary com­mand most feared — si­mul­ta­ne­ously wag­ing a two-front war against France in the west and Rus­sia in the east.

In the years lead­ing up to the Great War, the Ger­mans de­vised an at­tack plan aimed at capitalizing on the per­ceived weak­ness of the French army and on Rus­sia’s lo­gis­ti­cal and tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges when it came to mo­bi­liz­ing its troops. The Sch­li­ef­fen Plan, de­vised by Ger­many’s chief of staff Al­fred von Sch­li­ef­fen, called for Ger­many to strike France via Bel­gium, thereby avoid­ing the strongly de­fended French bor­der for­ti­fi­ca­tions fur­ther to the south. The key to vic­tory was cap­tur­ing Paris be­fore France’s al­lies could join the bat­tle. Then, Ger­many would fo­cus its full mil­i­tary might against Rus­sia.

How­ever, the Sch­li­ef­fen Plan quickly went awry. Rus­sia mo­bi­lized faster than ex­pected, and Bel­gium re­fused Ger­many’s re­quest to march its troops through Bel­gian ter­ri­tory. Forced to in­vade Bel­gium, Ger­many’s ad­vance was slowed. Mean­while, Great Bri­tain, Bel­gium’s ally, de­clared war on Ger­many.

Bri­tish and French forces stopped the Ger­man ad­vance in north­west­ern France, and both sides be­gan to dig in. This marked the start of the ghastly trench war­fare that, over the course of the con­flict, would maim or kill mil­lions of sol­diers on both sides.

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