1916

A single question haunts Europe - when will the war end?
At the start of 1916, the answer seems to be "never". The Germans have barely been budged an inch despite all the efforts of the past year and a half. The Allied military record reads like a Greek tragedy, with disaster at Gallipoli and several massive defeats for the Russians on the Eastern Front. The Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, whose recalcitrance regarding Serbia started the war, dies after a 68 year reign.

General von Falkenhayn proposes a deliberate strategy of attrition aimed at bleeding France white. Accordingly, on 16th February, an assault is made at Verdun in what would have a good claim to be the largest battle of all time. 1,000,000 artillery shells are fired, one quarter of them contain poison gas. Two days later German troops advance with a new weapon, the flamethrower. The objective, Fort Douamont, is taken on the 24th. But by the end of February the offensive has bogged down, and the Germans find themselves trapped in the fort they captured. The battle drags on for 10 months,with both sides firing continous barrages throughout the duration. By December, the Germans are forced to give it up - by now both sides have suffered at least 700,000 more casualties. France wins Verdun, but she loses three quarters of her army in the effort. From now on, British and Imperial forces bear the brunt of the fighting on the Western Front.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Verdun

Northwest, at the Somme, the British gear up for what they believe is the big push - a focused concentration of massive amounts of men and materiel aimed at delivering the knockout blow. British preparations are hurried, with the French, every nerve strained at Verdun, demanding that the British make a contribution. So on 23rd June, 1916, the British begin a massive bombardment of the German lines. Haig's BEF unleashes over a million and a half shells on the Kaisers forces, the bombardment is so loud it can be heard in England. "Not a rat will have survived.", Haig tells his men.

At 7.30 AM on the 1st of July, British forces emerge from their trenches and embark on the trek into no mans land towards the German positions, at a parade ground pace, Scots regiments playing bagpipes, and other units kicking footballs as they go. Unfortunately the enemy, despite expectations, has endured. The steel rain of machine gun bullets and shells wipe out entire battalions - 14,000 men are made casualties in the first 10 minutes of the march. The barbed wire, assumed to have been destroyed, is hardly touched, the British are unable to battle through the concertina and are hit by machineguns as they try to worm their way out of the mesh. By noon 100,000 men have been committed. Privates are ordered not to rescue the wounded and the fallen, but to press on at all costs. By sunset, Germany has suffered 6000 dead and wounded - the British, 60,000.

"We were able to see our comrades move forward in an attempt to cross No Man's Land, only to be mown down like meadow grass. I felt sick at the sight of the carnage and remember weeping."

The Battle of the Somme rages on throughout the summer. On 15th of September, a new weapon is deployed - 50 British tanks arrive. Only 18 make it to no mans land, and there they advance across the field at a speed of half a mile an hour, where they become a new and easy target for the German guns. By November, Haig is finally forced to call it off - and between the two sides, the war has claimed another 1,300,000 men. At the end of the battle, the British have pushed the front back a total of six miles.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Somme

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