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1915, an Overview

Calendar from the French magazine Le Petit Journal with scenes including (clockwise from top left) the capture of a German battle flag by Zouaves and Chasseurs à pied, a French artillery crew manning a 75mm. field gun, a dragoon moving into position, a heavier gun firing, entrenched troops, and marines advancing. The calendar includes Roman Catholic holy days, saints days, fête nationale (Bastille Day), and the time of sunrise and sunset. Illustration by L. Bomblec (?).
Le Petit Journal
Le Journal Républicain
le plus impartial et le mieux informé
le plus répandu des journaux du monde entier
Romans feuilletons des ecrivains les plus célèbres
Le Petit Journal
The Republican Journal
the most impartial and well informed
the most widespread of newspapers in the world
Serialized novels of the most celebrated writers

Calendar from the French magazine Le Petit Journal with scenes including (clockwise from top left) the capture of a German battle flag by Zouaves and Chasseurs à pied, a French artillery crew manning a 75mm. field gun, a dragoon moving into position, a heavier gun firing, entrenched troops, and marines advancing. The calendar includes Roman Catholic holy days, saints days, fête nationale (Bastille Day), and the time of sunrise and sunset. Illustration by L. Bomblec (?).

Image text

Le Petit Journal


Le Journal Républicain

le plus impartial et le mieux informé

le plus répandu des journaux du monde entier

Romans feuilletons des ecrivains les plus célèbres



Le Petit Journal


The Republican Journal

the most impartial and well informed

the most widespread of newspapers in the world

Serialized novels of the most celebrated writers



Other views: Left Side, Right Side, Detail, Detail

January 1 to December 31, 1915

On Christmas 1914 and New Year’s Day 1915, few foreign forces occupied their enemies' capitals. Paris, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Budapest, the goals “by Christmas” of the opposing armies, were secure. Paris had been threatened, but would not be again until 1918. Even Belgrade, across the Danube River from Austria-Hungary, and captured by Austro-Hungarian forces at the beginning of December, had been retaken on December 15, 1914, and was again in Serbian hands. Only the capitals of Belgium and Luxembourg, Brussels and the city of Luxembourg, were occupied.

In 1914, Germany had failed in two attempts to defeat France: in its initial, sweeping assault that ended in defeat at the Battle of the Marne, and in "the Race to the Sea" the mutual attempts of German and Anglo-French forces to outflank each other, that ended when the opposing sides reached the natural border of the English Channel, completing a front line between the combattants that ran from Switzerland to the North Sea. These failures convinced Falkenhayn, War Minister of Prussia and Commander of the German army, that Germany must fight a defensive war in the west, digging in, and holding the land it had gained.

Belgium’s small forces held the coast, but nearly all of Belgium was under German occupation, as was much of France’s industrial north with its centers of mining, steelworks, and textiles, and its deposits of iron ore and coal. Falkenhayn could choose not to take the offensive. Of necessity, France, and Joffre, its Commander in Chief, could not.

Number six in a series of folding postcards, each one showing one of the Western Front battlefields on the interior. The outer back shows a map of central Europe with the Entente Allies is pink and the Central Powers in Yellow. The map shows Europe after Turkey

In the summer of 1914, nearly all the military and political leaders of the combatants, expecting a short war, had not prepared for a long one, and began to come to terms with what they lacked: artillery shells and other weapons, transport, food, money, men. In 1915 every nation would face shortages of shells, which became a significant political issue in Britain. In its 1914 defeats in Galicia and the Carpathians, Austria-Hungary lost 15,000 freight cars and 320,000 horses. As early as October, 1914, there had been food shortages in major cities in Austria-Hungary which would introduce rationing in April, 1915. Shortly after its invasion in 1914, Germany was already dunning Belgium for the cost of the occupation. Both the Entente and the Central Powers looked for more men, by bringing neutral nations into the war as allies, by bringing colonial troops, and by looking within their own populations for more soldiers — loosening requirements of age, physique, and other limits, and by finding ways to replace men in their civilian roles — with women, with colonial laborers, with prisoners of war, with willing and unwilling conquered peoples.

Men of military age and qualifications could be replaced by the elderly, the young, by women, by prisoners of war, by non-combatant prisoners. Those who worked could be worked harder and longer. Germany shipped Belgians to factories and worksites in Germany. POWs were put to work farming, building roads, and sometimes trenches.

Britain looked to the Commonwealth — Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and its colonies in India, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Egypt. France brought troops from North Africa — Algeria and Morocco – French West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Germany lost control of the seas and most of its colonies in 1914, but, like Austria-Hungary and Russia, would try to bring disaffected peoples — Poles in particular — in its conquered territories to its side.

Neutral Countries and Other Fronts

By the beginning of 1915, some political and military leaders of the western allies sought theaters of war other than the Western Front on which to win the war, particularly by defeating Germany's allies Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Some of these "Easterners" hoped to reach and supply Serbia, geographically isolated and landlocked, by invading along Austria-Hungary's Dalmatian coast in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbia could also be supported from the south, through neutral Greece.

John Bull, symbol of Great Britain and here a bird-catcher, tries to entice the kingdom of Romania, in 1915 a neutral nation, into his trap. He already has Russia by the nose, and the plucked cock of France and an Italian fowl close at hand. Neutral (and wise) Greece rests out of reach, while Bulgaria sings to the Islamic crescent moon of Turkey. In the background Turkish, German, and Austro-Hungarian soldiers meet at a crossroads. Carved into the tree is a heart dated 1915, and the initials

The greatest European non-combatant power was Italy, the third member, with Germany and Austria-Hungary, of the Triple Alliance. The alliance called for its members to come to the aid of a partner who was attacked by two or more Great Powers. Italy, still recovering from its war seizing present-day Libya from the Ottoman Empire in 1911 and 1912, determined that Austria’s attack on Serbia did not meet this condition, and declared its neutrality on August 3, 1914. Although it had territorial disputes with France in Piedmont, those with Austria-Hungary were more significant, as there were great numbers of ethnic Italians living under Austrian rule in the southern Tyrol (Trentino-Alto Adige) and the port of Trieste.

The neutral Balkan states — Bulgaria, Romania, Greece — had recent combat experience in the two Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913. In 1912, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia had united against Turkey and had seized most of its diminished European territory. Bulgaria, unhappy with the results, turned on its former allies Greece and Serbia, but was defeated when Romania joined the alliance against it. These countries physically separated Germany and Austria-Hungary from their ally Turkey, but also provided a link, subject to the laws of neutrality, between Russia and its allies. Both the Allies and the Central Powers wooed Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece. And both wooed the largest of the neutral powers, the United States.

As the year began, some in Britain and France began to question whether Germany could be defeated on the Western Front, and looked to other, new theaters of operations. These 'Easterners' included Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the War Council, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, French Generals Franchet d’Esperey, Gallieni, and Castelnau. Both Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener and Sir John French, commanding the British Expeditionary Force, doubted that victory only on the western front was possible. Beyond looking to bring the neutral countries of Greece, Romania, and Bulgaria into the war as allies, they sought to support Serbia, and attack Austria-Hungary and Turkey. Potential sites for landing included Dalmatia, the Greek port of Salonika, and the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey.

The Eastern Front: Russia Advances

Falkenhayn disagreed with Hindenburg and Ludendorff on the deployment of forces on the Western and Eastern fronts, and the results that could be obtained against Russia. A new Tenth German Army, formed at the end of 1914, was sent east over Falkenhayn’s objections after Hindenburg and Ludendorff appealed to Kaiser Wilhelm, the Supreme War Lord. The Generals used the army in launching the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes on February 7 in bitter weather, continuing an advance that was finally stopped by a Russian counter attack on February 22. Russia suffered 200,000 casualties including 92,000 prisoners. German forces suffered 30% casualties, most from exposure

On January 31, 1915, in the Battle of Bolimow, German forces first used poison gas — xylyl bromide. Due to the cold, the gas had limited effective. The Russians did not report the use of gas to their Allies who would face it in Ypres in April. In fighting that extended through February 2, the Russians lost 40,000 men.

A hold-to-light postcard of the German and Austro-Hungarian victory (shortlived) over the Russians in the Uzroker Pass in the Carpathians on January 28, 1915. Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of the Austro-Hungarian General Staff, launched an offensive with three armies on January 23 including the new Austro-Hungarian Seventh Army under General Karl von Pflanzer-Baltin.

From Poland, the Russians pressed south against the Austrians in early 1915, continuing their siege of the great Austro-Hungarian fortress of Przemyśl. The city, which lay northeast of the Carpathian Mountains, held 127,800 soldiers, 18,000 civilians, 1,000 Russian POWs, and 14,500 horses. To relieve the seige the Austro-Hungarians had to attack through the mountains, and were unprepared to do so. Conrad launched a Carpathian offensive with the Second, Third, and Fourth Armies in January 1915. In deep snow, with temperatures falling to –25 Celsius, many — hundreds daily — froze to death. The Russians rolled barrels of explosives down on the attackers. Life expectancy for men of the Austro-Hungarian relief force was five to six weeks. The Third Army lost half its strength — 89,000 casualties, killed, captured, severely wounded, dead by suicide, eaten by wolves.

Another attempt in fog and snow to lift the siege of Przemyśl on March 1 cost the Second Army 51,000 casualties. On March 6, although there were thaws by day, the temperature reached –20 degrees Celsius at night. On March 19, the commander in Przemyśl (Kusmanek) burnt 700,000 paper Kronen for fuel. The next day, in near blizzard conditions, he had horses butchered for food. On March 22, he ordered the destruction of anything that might benefit the Russians besieging the city, demolishing train installations, destroying artillery shells, blowing up guns, destroying defensive works, and burning supplies. On March 23, 1915, he surrendered. The Russian took Przemyśl with 117,000 men, 2,500 officers, and 93 senior staff officers as prisoners. The victory gave the Russians access to the Carpathians passes beyond which lay the Hungarian plain.

The Russians continued advancing. Some Austro-Hungarian Czech regiments surrendered to the Russians, after which other Czech regiments were broken up with men reassigned to Austrian regiments. Austria-Hungary also lost officers at a far higher rate than any other country, something credited to uniforms that made them readily identifiable to Russian sharpshooters, but also to suicidal frontal assaults.

The Russian Eighth Army and part of the Third attempted to break through the Carpathian passes to reach the Hungarian plain. The offensive was suspended due to lack of ammunition and supplies. It was never resumed.

War at Sea: Blockade and Unrestricted Submarine War

Responding to Britain's 1914 imposition of a military zone in the North Sea, the Allied blockade, and British flagging of their ships as those of neutral nations, Germany declared a war zone around the British isles on February 4, 1915 within which ships of Britain and its allies were subject to being sunk. Neutral nations, including the United States, protested this violation of international law — as they had protested the Allied blockade — but Germany persisted. On May 7, 1915, German submarine U-20 sank the liner Lusitania off the southwest coast of Ireland with a loss of 1,100 civilians, including over 100 Americans. In the face of international criticism, Germany suspended its unrestricted submarine warfare.

Turkey and Russia at War

After leading a Turkish army to defeat in the the Battle of Sarikamish, Turkey's War Minister Ishmail Enver Pasha returned to Constantinople. It was the last time he would lead troops in the field during the war. The Turks lost an estimated 70,000 men out of 100,000.

The government concealed the extent of the Turkish defeat at Sarikamish. Back in Istanbul, Enver turned his wrath on non-Turkish citizens within the empire, blaming them for his defeat and claiming the Christian population in the war zone had supported the Russians. His targets included Greek populations in western Turkey, but most particularly the Armenians in the east.

The Dardanelles and Gallipoli

In Britain and France, the Easterners carried the day, and developed plans to knock Turkey out of the war, hoping to seize the Turkish capital of Constantinople, overthrow of the government of the Young Turks, and replace it with one that would join the Allies or declare neutrality. An attack in European Turkey offered a shorter route to Constantinople than one through Asia, so the plan quickly focused on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the bodies of water shaping it: the Dardanelles Strait to the south, and the Gulf of Xeros to the north. Planners debated the appropriate roles of the Army and Navy, with some arguing that the proper role of the Navy was to provide transport and support for an land invasion, and that ships were too valuable to put at risk in the attack. Others argued that a naval assault alone could reach and subdue Constantinople, and that the goal was worth the risk to the ships and men. Although both approaches would be taken in the The Dardanelles and Gallipoli Campaigns, the naval assault first won out, and the Dardanelles Campaign was launched.

The Anglo-French March 18, 1915 naval bombardment of the Turkish forts on the European and Asian sides of the Dardanelles significantly reduced the forts. The loss of the French battleship Bouvet, which hit a mine and sank, and the severe damage to the British Irresistible and Inflexible, deterred further attempts.

The naval plan the Allies developed was to “force the Straits”, for French and British ships to outduel the Turkish forts that lined the European and Asian sides of the Dardanelles, to sweep the Turkish minefields beyond them, to cross the Sea of Marmora to Constantinople itself.

Throughout the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, the Allies operated on outdated information and poor maps. The Dardanelles forts had been improved with German guns in recent years, and more had been added not only at the forts themselves, but also along the Strait. The initial Allied attempt to force the Dardanelles began on February 19, when Allied warships shelled and demolished the outer forts at the mouth of the Strait. Weather delayed major operations until March 18 when the naval forces made their major attempt to force the straits. A line of five British ships began the assault, followed by a line of French ships. The Allied ships made steady progress, but when the second line advanced a French battleship struck a mine, and sank in minutes losing of her entire crew. The defenders in the forts hit two British battleship, sinking one.

While some prepared to resume the assault the next day, those who had opposed the naval plan, their fears of losing ships having proven true, held firm against a renewed assault. The plan to force the Dardanelles was abandoned.


With the decision not to resume the naval assault on the Dardanelles, planners turned again to an invasion. Because they thought the Turks had a significant force at the mainland end of the Gallipoli Peninsula, planners settled on taking the western end of the Gallipoli peninsula, and advancing quickly the length of the peninsula. A secondary landing further north was intended to cut across the peninsula, trapping the Turkish defenders, both cutting off any chance of their retreat north, and preventing their reinforcement.

Planners were given very little time to prepare what would be the largest naval invasion until that time. Their most current information on the state of the coastal defenses was nine years old, and they had neither detailed or current maps of the terrain. Because they did not want to alert the Turks to their interest in the area at the end of the peninsula, Allied reconnaissance was limited, with ships occasionally passing the coast. The invasion troops were assembled in Egypt, and many of their supplies were purchased openly in the markets of Cairo. Security was poor, and packages were sent from England to addressees in the “Constantinople Strike Force.”

To the Dardanelles! The Entente Allies successfully capture their objective and plant their flags in this boy

Alerted to the prospect of further Allied attacks, the Turks gave German General Liman von Sanders command of the Gallipoli peninsula and a force of six Turkish divisions totaling 84,000 men.

On April 25, 1915, barely five weeks after the failure to force the Strait and the decision to land an invasion force, the invasion — five divisions totaling 75,000 men — began with British and Colonial forces landed at Cape Helles at the very end of the peninsula, and troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) further north at Gaba Tepe, which became known as Anzac Cove.

As in so many of the assaults during the war, men advanced into machine gun fire and barbed wire. At Cape Helles, they tried to struggle from the landing craft to the shore, and were cut down in the ships, on the gangways, in the water, and on the beach. Further north, the ANZACs who had landed faced not the gentle slope they had expected, but steep inclines with little cover and vegetation that impaired their advance. Trying to advance, the invaders were lost and sometimes trapped in ravines and gullies. Forces that were supposed to link up could not find each other. Though the Turkish defenders were few in number, they and their machine guns were able to limit the Allied advance.

Despite their horrendous losses, by the end of the first day, the Allies had established beachheads at both Cape Helles and Anzac Cove. In the coming days, both sides became more entrenched as the Allies landed more forces and Turkish reinforcements arrived. Occasionally, one side or the other attempted to end this newest stalemate in the war — the Turks on May 19, the Allies on June 4, the Turks on June 28. The Turks could not drive the Allies into the sea; the Allies could not advance.

To break the stalemates on the Western Front and Gallipoli, Joffre and Kitchener agreed on an August offensive in Galipoli, at Anzac Cove and further north at Suvla Bay, and a September offensive in Champagne.

In August, the Allies invaded further north at Suvla Bay, a lightly defended crescent beach. Poor leadership ignored the opportunity the invasion force faced, directed the men to dig in, and delayed any advance until the Turks had reinforced their position, and made advance impossible.

The government having pulled forces from the Caucusus, Mesopotamia, and Palestine and Syria, half the Turkish army was on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Later in August the British launched their last assault at Suvla Bay, and leaders began talking of evacuating.

The Western Front: The Allied Campaigns

The Germans attacked at Soissons from January 12 to 15, 1915, to get ahead of an anticipated Allied offensive in support of Russia. Otherwise Falkenhayn held to his defensive posture on the Western Front and fortified his positions.

The German attack at Soissons, France, January 12-15, 1915, with a inset portrait of General von Lochow.

French General Joffre used the unfortunate word “nibbling,” to explain his assaults on German forces at the beginning of 1915, a strategy of assessing and responding to the German army’s strength — conducting small local attacks to gauge the strength of the German defenses, and, having found them too substantial to overcome, at least for the present, resisting the impulse to conduct a larger general attack. Finding the Germans well-entrenched, and having little hope of breaking through his line, Joffre used his artillery to try to beat down the invader.

Continuing his Champagne offensive begun in December 1914, Joffre conducted a larger offensive in February and March in Champagne. The French offensive culminated with a coordinated British offensive. On March 10, 1915, British and Indian troops attacked at Neuve Chapelle. Fog obscured the Allied preparations from the Germans and the attackers moved into position overnight. Lacking sufficient artillery shells, the British did not conduct a preliminary bombardment, but unleashed a ferocious artillery bombardment immediately before the battle, taking the Germans by surprise, breaking their line, and battling them in their trenches and the village, which Indian troops took.

Throughout the night of the 10th and 11th the Germans shelled the British and Indian forces, and quickly moved in reinforcements by train and motor transport. When the British and Indians resumed the assault on March 11, the Germans had stiffened their defense, and the British were not able to follow through. The combined Franco-British offensives ended on March 12.

In the Champagne offensive of February and March, 1915, the Germans lost at least 15,000, and the French 50,000 casualties. France’s total casualties for the winter battles of 1914-1915 were 400,000. At Neuve Chapelle, the British and Indian force of 50,000 men suffered nearly 12,000 casualties. The French suffered a further 60,000 casualties in an attack at St. Mihiel in April.

On April 22, 1915, a French colonial division and newly-arrived Canadian troops holding the line at Ypres saw a five-mile long cloud of greenish-yellow gas approaching, prelude to a German assault. The gas had been released from cylinders, and drifted towards the Allied line. Although a German deserter had warned of the use of gas on 13 April and had delivered a German gas-mask, the defenders were unprepared. The German offensive, the Second Battle of Ypres, had the same result as those of the Allies — defensive reinforcements were brought in, and the attack was halted. The Germans continued the offensive with further gas attacks at Ypres on May 1 and 24. By the time the the Second Battle of Ypres came to an end on May 25, the British troops had suffered 16,000 casualties, the Germans 5,000.

Memorial to the French Moroccan Division at Vimy Ridge. The face commemorates the Division

In May and June, Joffre continued the French offensive at Arras and Vimy, attacking on May 9 after a six-day bombardment. Although the French broke the German line, they did not have reserves in position to continue their advance or to halt a German counter-attack. The same day, British and Indian forces launched a supporting attack in French Flanders at Aubers Ridge. The British did not have sufficient artillery shells to continue their attack a second day. From May 15 to 25, the British fought another supporting action at Festubert. The Allies ran low on shells, and Joffre ordered an end to the British offensive.

The French continued the Second Battle of Artois until June 25. In the battle, the French suffered over 100,000 casualties and the Germans 75,000. In their coordinated attack at Aubers Ridge, the British lost over 11,000 men.

The lack of sufficient artillery shells at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge awakened the press. On May 14, the first story on the shell shortage was published in The Times of London. Two days later, First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher resigned over the Gallipoli campaign and the failure of the naval campaign there. Prime Minister Asquith was forced to bring the Conservatives in to form a coalition government and to push Winston Churchill, seen as the primary political force behind the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns, out. David Lloyd George, was given the new position of Minister of Munitions, in which role he frequently overrode both generals and admirals.

After Aubers Ridge began what was, at least for the British, the “long pause” in the war, four and a half months between Aubers Ridge and the British offensive at Loos in September. There was no British summer offensive, neither was there any British decision on Gallipoli.

France was exhausted, but interested in landing a force in Greece to provide support for Serbia. Gilbert, p 172.: French fighting in Artois, which ended June 18 with 18,000 French Casualties. In the Meuse Argonne, 16,000 French Casualties in a German assault. There are 5,000,000 French in arms. Their steel helmets begin to arrive, though there will never be enough. Then the Brits.

The War in the Air

A British ship sunk under its own flag, John Bull, personification of Great Britain, calls for a false flag with which to disguise his ships even as he is being dragged beneath the surface by German mermen — submariners with armbands in the colors of the German flag. Personifications of neutral nations holding their flags include Uncle Sam of the USA, a Nederlander, and representatives of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the distance, the British Isles have been hit, bombed by a Zeppelin or shelled by a sea battery.

Germany continued its use of Zeppelins in 1915 even as the Allies improved defenses against it. The British began to develop airplanes and weapons that could reach the altitudes at which the Zeppelins dropped their payload.

Airplanes and their crew began to be more specialized, taking on specific roles. Two-seater planes were used for bombing, as gunships with machine guns mounted front and aft, for registering artillery, and for photographic reconnaissance. The last of these would typically take their photographs and hasten back to base so the film could be developed as quickly as possible. Artillery registration was more dangerous as the plane and crew needed to linger over the enemy lines, seeing if the large guns were hitting their target, and communicating corrections.

Single-seat fighter planes were developed, and the rifles and hand guns used by pilots and observers in the first days of the war were replaced by machine guns — mounted for a gunner in two-seater planes, and fixed, perhaps on an upper wing, for single seat fighters. The Fokker E.I, designed by the Dutch national Anton Fokker, introduced in April 1915 with a machine gun capable of firing through the propeller, gave its pilot much greater accuracy than planes that fired over the propeller with a wing-mounted gun. It wasn't until the spring of 1916 that the Allies began to redress the advantage the E.I gave German airmen and end the 'Fokker scourge.'

Italy Enters the War

Italy's declaration of neutrality in August, 1914 did nothing to settle the question of war within the country where there was support both for and against joining the war. Although the Triple Alliance had coordinated military plans, including sending troops to the Western Front, with Germany, those in favor of the war primarily supported joining it on the side of the Entente. Italy had not recovered from its Libyan War against the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and was short of equipment to wage war. To entice Italy into the war, the Allies offered her parts of Austria-Hungary. So did Germany, which pressured its ally to turn over the Trentino, Trieste, and the Dalmatian coast of Bosnia-Herzegovina. With the entry of Turkey into the war, the Allies also offered islands in the Aegean Sea and on mainland Turkey itself.

With promises, France and Germany entice Italy into the war during a Mardi Gras masked ball, February 16, 1915. Italy, the caption implies, is the most masked of ball-goers, and this the most masked of balls, and one which only two will leave contented. The warring sides offered Italy territory for dropping its neutral stance, proposing Trentino and Trieste in Austria-Hungary, Piedmont in France, and Turkey

Prominent Italians who spoke, wrote, and agitated for war included the novelist and poet Gabriel D’Annunzio, the poet and Futurist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, and the journalist and socialist politician Benito Mussolini. After the Russian victory at Przemyśl on March 23, 1915, Italian politicians thought they should enter the war before Russia defeated Austria-Hungary with no benefit to Italy. On April 26, Italy, Great Britain, and France signed the secret Treaty of London, in which Italy agreed to enter the war, and Britain agreed to supply Italy with coal (as it already did to France). On May 4, 1915 Italy formally abrogated its treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Although a majority of the Italian Chamber of Deputies still favored neutrality, a mob that gathered at the Parliament House and broke windows moved the Deputies to vote for war. On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary, although it would not do so on Germany for more than a year.

Despite having to fight on a third front (along with the Eastern and Serbian fronts), Austria-Hungary, held the heights of the Dolomite Mountains that formed much of its border with Italy. Two of Italy's four armies (the First and Fourth) faced north along Trentino and the mountain passes between the two countries, and these armies advanced into Austro-Hungarian territory. General Luigi Cadorna, commanding the Italian Army, concentrated his other two armies in the narrow plain in Italy's northeast. Here the front line roughly paralleled the Isonzo River flowing through Austro-Hungarian territory just east of its border with Italy. Before the war had ended, Italy and Austria-Hungary would fight eleven "Battles of the Isonzo", four of them in 1915.

Despite his lack of adequate arms, Cadorna launched multiple offensives with the Italian Second and Third Armies, reaching, and in some cases crossing the Isonzo. In the initial Italian advance, the Austro-Hungarians retreated to defensive positions along the river.

Beginning on June 23, 1915, the First Battle of the Isonzo lasted through July 7. Italy lost 15,000 men. From July 18 through August 3, Italy lost another 42,000 in the Second Battle of the Isonzo. From October 18 to November 4, the Italians and Austro-Hungarians waged the Third Battle in which 20,000 Italians were killed and 60,000 wounded. The Fourth Battle of the Isonzo, launched on November 10, ended on December 14, 1915.

By the end of 1915, Cadorna had lost over 250,000 men. 200,000 Italian soldiers were prisoners of war or missing.

The Eastern Front: Russia Thrown Back

With the Russian conquest of Przemyśl and Austria-Hungary's increasingly desperate struggle to prevent the Russians from breaking through the Carpathian passes to the Hungarian plain, Falkenhayn turned from his plans for an offensive in France to aiding Austria-Hungary, and agreed to Conrad’s plan for an attack on the Russian flank along a front from Gorlice to Tarnow. He withdrew troops from the Western Front in March and April, sending one of four infantry regiments and two of six artillery to Russia. His offensive and gas attack in the Second Battle of Ypres was in part intended to forestall an Allied offensive against his weakened line.

General von Mackensen commanding the new Eleventh German Army and an Austrian army launched his campaign on May 3, 1915 along a 30-mile front after a four hour hurricane bombardment. By May 4, the Russian Third Army was shattered and Mackensen's army created a breakthrough too wide and deep for the Russians too close. The Russians abandoned Galicia and most of Poland, and lost 210,000 men including 140,000 prisoners. By 14 May, the German/Austrian allies reached the San River, capturing an additional 250,000 Russians. The German and Austro-Hungarian forces retook the Carpathian passes. On June 3, they regained the fortress city of Przemyśl. They retook Lemberg on June 22, and Kaiser Franz Josef promoted Conrad to the new rank of colonel-general. With Galicia secure, they moved north into Russian Poland and took Warsaw on August 4. On August 10, they besieged the great Russian fortress at Novo-Georgievsk with its garrison of 90,000 men. The Russian commander surrendered ten days later on August 20.

A Russian Cossack riding among refugees fleeing before a Central Power advance. The Russians adopted a scorched-earth policy in the months-long retreat before the German-Austro-Hungarian Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive of the spring, summer, and fall 1915, with Cossacks accused of burning homes and crops to deny them to the advancing enemy, and to prevent civilians from remaining behind and providing intelligence to the invader.

The Russians were being pushed back to the Bug River. On August 25 and 26 they lost Brest-Litovsk as the Central Powers continued the campaign.

By the end of August, Russia had been pushed back 300 miles, and had lost territory the size of France. An estimated 10,000,000 refugees — most of them not ethnic Russians — had fled the battlezone and the Central Powers had captured 750,000 Russians in the campaign. Germany and Austria-Hungary held nearly 1,750,000 prisoners of war, 1,425,000 of them Russian.

The Russians continued to fight, but the soldiers did not have adequate weapons, rifles, or boots, and autumn rains make the roads impassable. Some Russian army units reported that Bolshevik anti-war propaganda was being distributed.

Falkenhayn renewed his call for separate peace with Russia. Commanding his depleted Austro-Hungarian army, Conrad agreed, but German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg refused. It is likely the Tsar would not have abandoned his allies in any event.

By August 1915, after one year of war, Austria-Hungary had lost 2,500,000 men and 57,000 officers killed or wounded. One in eight officers were dead, and one in ten men. 730,000 men were missing or prisoners of war, and 928,000 were seriously wounded.

Despite this, Conrad attacked on August 26, 1915 taking Grodno and Lutsk. In counterattacks, the Russians drove Conrad back and retook Lutsk on September 23.

On September 9, 1915, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, and Falkenhayn turned to removing Serbia as a threat to Austria-Hungary. Despite this, Ludendorff and Conrad separately tried to continue their success against the Russians. Ludendorff attacked at Vilna on September 9, 1915, but the Russians held. In October, Conrad continued his campaign against the Russians, with no German support, and lost almost 250,000 men. The Russian front stabilized, but did not again threaten Germany.

The Western Front: the Fall Campaigns

With their Russian ally being driven from an area the size of France, the British and French planned offensives to relieve some of the pressure on them. On July 6, 1915, there was an Anglo-French meeting in Calais. The French and British commanders, Joffre and Sir John French, met at Joffre's headquarters at Chantilly on the following day. On August 18, during the siege of the great Russian fortress at Novo-Georgievsk, Lord Kitchener went to France to meet with British commander Haig to plan an offensive to aid Russia. As a result of these sessions, the British and French settled on a plan for simultaneous offensives in Champagne and Artois, even though political leaders believed the shell shortage was not over and the supply of munitions would continue to be inadequate for months to come.

Through August and September, the Allies used what artillery shells they had to conduct ongoing general bombardments along the Western Front from Switzerland to the Channel coast and even beyond, with naval bombardment from British ships and aerial bombardment. By late September, the British, with ongoing reinforcements augmenting their forces on the Western front, were responsible for 50 miles of the front line. At the same time, the western Allies were running low on shells just as they were about to begin the Champagne-Loos-Artois Offensive they had agreed upon.

Map of the plan for the Allied Offensive in France showing the situation on September 24, the eve of the infantry assault. An Anglo-French would attack eastward in Artois (with the British at Loos) as the French attacked northwards in Champagne. From

Joffre’s offensive against the German salient in Northern France began on September 25, 1915 after a four-day bombardment in Champagne and Artois. With the French Fourth, Fifth, and Tenth Armies, the British New Army, and reserve Belgian divisions, the Allies fielded 1,200,000 soldiers.

In Champagne, General Castelnau commanded the French 4th and 5th Armies in the Second Battle of Champagne, and had some success along a 15-mile front inflicting 100,000 German casualties, and taking 27,000 prisoners.

In Artois, French and British forces attacked, with British troops under Haig and Plumer near Loos, and a French force commanded by General Foch near Arras. Using gas and smoke screens, the British have some success.

South of the British, the French had twice as many guns for each mile of the front as the British did, but the bombardment was still not enough to destroy the German barbed wire defenses. Before the attack, the Third Battle of Artois, the Germans flooded the ground over which the French attempted to advance. On September 26, they captured Souchez, which had been fortified by the Germans, but were pushed back at Vimy Ridge two days later.

Despite the bombardment and the sheer number of attackers, the Germans fell back to their second line of defense and held. General Pétain suspended his attack after three days. The French lost 190,000 casualties against German losses of 120,000, the latter mostly in counter-attacks. The French took 25,000 Germans prisoner.

The British New Army attacked in the Battle of Loos after a four-day bombardment in the first British use of gas. Attacks and German counter-attacks continued through 13 October 1915. British losses were 50,000 men against German losses of 20,000. The death toll at Loos exceeded any previous battle, and any success the British had was overshadowed by their losses. In the House of Lords, Loos and the battle of Neuve Chappelle before it were described as "defeats." Through writing privately to Kitchener, through his friendship with the King, and through other means, Douglas Haig was able to get Sir John French removed and himself appointed at commander of the BEF.

Responding to Falkenhayn’s command to retake lost ground, the Germans counter-attacked on the night of September 25, on October 1, and on October 8 with a general attack along the Anglo-French line with four divisions, suffered heavy losses.

A German governmental statement of October 14, credited Allied success to the surprise English gas attack, the numerical superiority of the attackers, and to war material from half the world including America. The statement put French losses of killed, wounded and taken prisoner at 130,000, English at 60,000.

Bulgaria and the Conquest of Serbia


Serbia had defeated Austro-Hungarian invasions in 1914 and 1915, but on October 6, 1915, Austro-Hungarian and German troops under von Mackensen crossed the Danube River into Serbia, and took Belgrade on October 9, 1915. Kövess and Gallwitz crossed the Save-Danube border from the north. Bulgaria entered the war, and a week after the initial assault two Bulgarian armies invaded Serbia from the east.

Facing this combined force, Serbia fell quickly. Mackensen took 150,000 Serbian prisoners in October. The Serbian army fled west, into the mountains of Albania, and to the Adriatic coast. Of the 200,000 who set out, 20,000 were lost in the retreat. In the spring of 1916, many of the surviving Serbian soldiers joined the Allies on the Salonika front.

The French and British forces that had landed in Greece tried to aid their Serbian allies. But Bulgaria invaded Macedonia on October 11, and drove back General Sarrail and his Allied forces trying to advance up Serbia's Vardar River valley.


In 1914, Great Britain had expanded its foothold in Mesopotamia, ostensibly to secure it's oil pipeline to Ahwaz, Persia. Claiming that expanding his territory would enhance the security of his position, British Commander General John Nixon began moving up the Shat el Aral leading from the Persian Gulf to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and into Ottoman territory, battling Turkish forces along the way. In November, Nixon's Indian Army troops took Basra.

Detail from a map of southern Turkey, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia from the Baedeker 1912 travel guide

At the end of 1914 and in early 1915, the British built up their forces. The Turks did the same, moving a division to Baghdad and reinforcing Nasiriyah. In February, 1915 the Turks attacked at Ahwaz. In April, British forces defeated a Turkish force from Nasiriya in Shaiba, near Basra, and British reinforcements helped drive off the Turks at Ahwaz in May. To secure further territory, the British began moving up both rivers. A British division under Townshend followed the Tigris and defeated the Turks at Amara on June 2. Another British division moved up Euphrates to take Nasiriya, and captured it on July 25. Turkish defenders retreated up both rivers towards Kut-el-'Amara.

Kut lay at the northern end of the Shatt-el-Hai which connects the Tigris and Euphrates, allowing transfer of forces from one river to the other. A strategic objective, Kut was significantly further on. In a battle near Kut from September 26 to 28, Townshend's force of 11,000 troops defeated a Turkish force of 10,500 under Nur-Ud-Din, but most of the Turks were able to escape up the Tigris towards Baghdad.

Townshend continued up the Tigris, stopping to rest and reorganize at Azizaya from October 5 to November 19. He requested additional troops before moving on, but Nixon ordered him to advance to Baghdad. On November 27, a British attack southeast of Baghdad at Ctesiphon failed. Harassed by the Turks, the British retreated to Kut. A December 5 relief attempt failed at a cost of 4,000 men. On December 8, 80,000 Turkish troops invested the British force of 25,000 at Kut-el-'Amara.

Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Evacuations of Gallipoli

In London and Paris, the Gallipoli campaign was increasingly recognized as a failure. To its supporters, Gallipoli needed more troops, more weapons, more attempts to break the stalemate, another attempt to force the Dardanelles. To more and more decision makers, the situation in Gallipoli began to seem untenable. Evacuating was considered, first in the context of Suvla Bay, then of the entire peninsula. Reports of journalists on the ground, particularly that of the Australian Murdoch, critical of the Gallipoli command, made their way to the British cabinet. The French thought some of their forces could be better used elsewhere, and developed a plan to support Serbia from the south, by landing forces drawn in part from Gallipoli in Salonica (Thessaloniki), Greece. This was not a straightforward proposition, as Greece was still neutral, its government divided between the pro-German King Constantine and the pro-Ally Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos.

With which shall I dance? Neutral Greece trying to decide whether to align with the Central Powers or Allies. A Greek Evzone, member of an elite light infantry or mountain unit, weighs his options, a German pickelhaube in one hand, French kepi in the other. One of a series of 1916 postcards on neutral nations by Em. Dupuis.

With the failure at Suvla Bay, Sir Ian Hamilton was replaced by Sir Charles Monro who quickly decided to withdraw from Suvla Bay. Kitchener agreed. To undermine Kitchener’s power, Prime Minister Asquith brought in Robertson as Chief of Imperial General Staff.

With neighboring Bulgaria as an ally and Serbia conquered, Turkey enjoyed transport and communications with Austria-Hungary and Germany. Improved German arms and munitions began to arrive on the Peninsula, and more German officers and troops. Turkey had much of its army on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Asian side of the Dardanelles, supported by Germans and under the command of Liman von Sanders.

Allied troops on the peninsula had begun preparing for winter, and winter struck early. On November 27, 1915, drenching rain storms hit, and over 1,000 men drowned at Gallipoli. On November 29, over 100 froze to death.

After much delay and debate, politicians, generals, and admirals agreed on evacuating, first at Suvla Bay, and finally from the entire peninsula. The evacuations of Gallipoli may have been the only operation in the campaign the Allies managed properly. Casualty estimates for the evacuations ran as high at 50%, but at the end, total casualties were two. The evacuations all followed the same pattern of feigning normal activity: bringing supplies and reinforcements in, keeping up activity throughout the day, but withdrawing men at night. Many of the ostensible supplies were empty crates. The Allies wanted to leave no supplies to the defenders, including the mules and horses transporting the supplies.

Troops were reduced to the number the navy calculated that it could remove in a single final night, an operation that had to be completed silently and in darkness. As men were withdrawn at night, the line became increasingly thin, less and less able to withstand a Turkish attack should one come. The greatest complication at Anzac was the proximity of the front lines to each other, sometimes only yards away. Thinning the line, leaving silently, keeping up a level of activity the Turkish defenders expected, all became increasingly difficult and dangerous.

Guns were rigged to fire automatically. Men slit the throats of mules on the beach, and lit fuses to blow up remaining supplies that could not be carried off. Men made their way to the disembarking points, and were taken to the ships.

On 18 December, 1915, both Suvla Bay and Anzac were evacuated.

On December 27, 1915, the decision was made to evacuate Cape Helles, an evacuation that took place on 8 January, 1916.

The End of the Year

French casualties in 1915 were almost 2,500,000. Joffre claimed he was wearing the Germans down, but politicians were sceptical. Foreign Minister Déclassé resigned, and Viviani’s government fell and was replaced by Briand’s.

At the end of 1915, Central Powers planned for unlimited submarine warfare and Verdun.