This post is the next in a series, giving a monthly overview of some of the key events that happened throughout the First World War.
28th – The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by Gavrilo Princip. The Archduke and his wife were visiting Sarajevo in Bosnia when they were assassinated by Princip, a member of the Black Hand group, a nationalist organisation whose aims included the unification of the Balkan States, free from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although there were many other long term causes of the First World War, this event is often considered to be the spark that eventually led to war.
4th – Third Battle of Krithia began on this day. After two previous failed attempts to capture Achi Baba near Helles – a position which commanded views over most of the Gallipoli Peninsula – a third battle was planned to capture the position, which had been an objective for the first day of the Gallipoli campaign, 25th April. British, Indian and French troops were to advance over a limited advance of 730m/800 yds to fulfil two objectives – firstly, to capture the Ottoman trenches and secondly to establish a new trench line. The attack started at midday. Limited gains were made initially by a handful of units with the order to dig in and consolidate positions coming at 4pm. However, shortly after this was an Ottoman counterattack, forcing the British to withdraw to a position only 180-230m/200-250yds in front of where the advance had started from. There were 6500 British and French casualties and estimated Ottoman losses of between 9000-10000.
28th – The Battle of Gully Ravine began on this day. Another offensive in the Gallipoli campaign near to Cape Helles. In order to prepare for a new offensive, orders were issued for attacks to advance the left and right flanks of the limited gains from the Third Battle of Krithia. The right flank was attacked successfully by the French on 21st June and the fighting continued until the 30th June when all objectives were taken. The Battle of Gully Ravine was on the left flank of the Krithia gains. The terrain here was closer to that of Anzac Cove (ANZAC’s landing point on 25th April on the west coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula) than anywhere else at Helles. After a two day bombardment, the offensive began. The British artillery was overwhelming and in one section was able to support a quick advance over the distance of half a mile to a point that became the most northerly Allied position at Helles. However, in other parts of the offensive, there were some serious errors which led to limited or no gains and resulting in the loss of many men, forcing some battalions to merge in order to make up the right numbers. There were counterattacks made by the Ottomans in the following days that were unsuccessful, and the line then stabilised. At this battle, there were 3800 British casualties and 6000 Ottoman casualties. No major offensives were attempted by the British at Helles for the remainder of the Gallipoli campaign.
2nd – The Battle of Mont Sorrel began on this day. The Battle was fought as part of a series of battles to the southeast of Ypres in June 1916. It was a German attempt to capture the high ground around Ypres. This part of Belgium is generally flat, so any high ground was considered a strategic bonus. The Canadian Corps, whose troops were based in the areas where the Germans attacked, was also in the process of developing a plan to consolidate its positions, which meant an all-out attack on German positions. However, the Germans attacked first. On June 2nd, the Germans launched a massive artillery barrage on the Canadian positions. At 1300, the Germans exploded a number of mines that had been dug below Canadian lines. This was followed by an attack by the infantry who swiftly managed to advance over 1km. The artillery and mine attacks had so disoriented the defenders that the Germans quickly captured Mount Sorrel and Hill 61. The Canadians launched a counter-attack on June 3rd. They suffered heavy casualties and failed to recapture Mount Sorrel or Hill 61. However, despite their losses, the Canadians did advance 900 metres to positions they had held the previous day.
Allied command could not tolerate that the Germans were now holding this important part of high ground overlooking the city of Ypres. Extra troops could not be released as the Somme Offensive was soon coming and the troops were needed there, so troops already in the area had to been used as best as they could to regain the territory. Artillery was put to good use and the accurate fire greatly hindered German attempts to dig in. However, the Germans exploded four mines dug near the destroyed village of Hooge. There were many casualties and to ensure that this area of the front line did not fall to the Germans, a British cavalry unit were moved forward. On June 13th, the Canadians and British attacked. Aided by a smokescreen, they got to the German front line with relative ease. Within one hour of the attack starting, the Germans had pulled back to their original positions pre June 2nd. The Germans launched two unsuccessful counterattacks, but they did get to within 150 metres of the Canadian lines. However, the line was held, and it was only lost during the German Spring Offensive of 1918. The battle lasted 11 days and caused 8430 British and Canadian casualties and 5765 German casualties.
5th – The HMS Hampshire is sunk just off the coast of the Orkney Islands. On board this ship was Earl Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, notably known as the person in the ‘Your Country Needs You’ posters and the man who foresaw that the First World War would last longer than Christmas 1914. Kitchener was on a diplomatic mission to Russia when the sinking took place. HMS Hampshire was sailing unaccompanied as the poor weather conditions had separated the ships from the destroyers that were present. The Hampshire was approximately 2.4km/1.5mi off the coast of Orkney when she hit a mine laid by a German U-Boat in the run up to the Battle of Jutland the week before. Within 15 minutes, the Hampshire’s bow had sunk. Of the 749 persons on board, 737 were lost, including Earl Kitchener.
8th – In the Adriatic Sea, the Italian troopship SS Principe Umberto is sunk by an Austro-Hungarian submarine. It became the deadliest sinking of the war, with approximately 1900 lives lost.
30th – The Battle of the Boar’s Head was an attack on 30 June 1916 at Richebourg-l’Avoué. The battle was one of many carried out over a period whilst the Battle of the Somme was being carried out to prevent German troops and equipment from being transferred to the Somme. Troops advanced to capture the Boar’s Head, a salient held by the German 6th Army. Two battalions with one battalion forming carrying parties, attacked the German front position before dawn on 30th June. The British took and held the German front line trench and the second trench for several hours, before retiring to their lines. Approximate British casualty figures for the battle total approximately 850. In less than five hours, the three South Downs battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 17 officers and 349 men killed, including 12 sets of brothers, three from one family. Another 1,000 men were wounded or taken prisoner. In the regimental history, the battle is known as “The Day Sussex Died”. CSM Nelson Victor Carter was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions in the battle. His story is detailed further on the Victoria Cross page of this website.
June – Operation Hush, a British plan to capture the coast of Belgium commenced this month and carried on until October of that year. The plan was to carry out amphibious landings on the Belgian coast, supported by an attack from Nieuwpoort and the Yser bridgehead. Operation Hush was intended to begin when the Third Battle of Ypres, the main offensive at Ypres had advanced to Roulers, Koekelare and Thourout, in conjunction with advances by the French and Belgian armies. After several postponements, Operation Hush was cancelled on 14 October 1917, as the advance at Ypres did not meet the objectives required to begin the attack.
7th – The Second Battle of Messines began on this day. The objective was to take the strategically important Wytschaete-Messines Ridge, as it allowed the German occupiers to observe the Allied rear areas in and around the Ypres Salient. It also formed the southern border of the Salient and its taking would ease the dangers around the area and would be a good preparation for the coming Third Battle of Ypres (better known as Passchendaele). At 3.10am, after a weeklong artillery bombardment, 19 mines were detonated by the Allies under the Messines Ridge. This series of explosions is believed to have killed around 10000 German troops. The shocked German troops still on the Ridge found themselves facing an infantry attack on a 16km/9.7mi front protected by a creeping barrage. This was a successful offensive, with most of the initial objectives being taken within the first few hours. Soldiers from across the Empire, including Irish and New Zealand troops, fought extremely hard to take this important part of Belgium. By the end of the battle on 14th June, Allied forces had control of the Ridge. The Battle for Messines Ridge was one of the most successful of the First World War, proving that success could be achieved with the correct level of planning & training, the sufficient support from the artillery and having targeted, manageable objectives. British and Empire casualties for the battle totalled around 25000; with German losses approximately 26000. The success at Messines for vital for the coming Third Battle of Ypres, but the six week delay between the offensives enabled the Germans to reorganise and strengthen their positions.
13th – First successful heavy bomber raid on London carried out by a formation of 20 Gotha G.IV aircraft. 14 of the 20 Gothas flew over East and Central London, dropping bombs in Barking, East Ham, the East End Docks and an area around Liverpool Street Station. Either one or two of the bombs crashed through the roof of the Upper North Street School in Poplar and killed 18 children, 16 of them aged between 4 and 6. Over 100 people were killed and over 400 injured, making this the deadliest air raid on London during the First World War.
25th – The first American troops land in France on this day. In June 1917, there were 14000 troops in France, by May 1918 over one million American troops were stationed in France. The first American participation in the war was in October 1917, near to the city of Nancy.
27th – The Batterie Pommern also known as ‘Lange Max’, the world’s largest gun at that point in history, is fired for the first time. It was located near to the town of Koekelare and was a 15in/38cm long range gun, protected by armour and mounted on a steel bridge. It moved through a circular rail track protected in a concrete pit about 70 feet in diameter. The guns first target was the port of Dunkirk, a distance of 51 km, and the first shot was a direct hit on the town. The gun was of great significance to the Germans and played a role throughout the remainder of the First World War, the main targets being Dunkirk and Ypres.
30th – Greece declares war on the Central Powers and takes an active part in the fighting, raising ten divisions worth of men and also the Royal Hellenic Navy. The Greek military suffered an estimated 5000 deaths whilst contributing to the war.
1st – The Battle of Belleau Wood, began on this day. The battle occurred during the German Spring Offensive near the River Marne. The battle was fought by the U.S. 2nd (containing a brigade of US Marines) and 3rd Divisions along with some French and British forces. In late May 1918, the German offensives were continuing and were successful, getting to within 72km of Paris. American troops helped halt the offensive and a counteroffensive was ordered to drive the Germans out of Belleau Wood. The Marines led the attack against the solid German positions and by the end of the first day had suffered more than 1000 casualties. Fighting continued for the next three weeks, with the Germans throwing reinforcements and equipment into the wood. Finally, the American troops managed to take the wood on 26th June. The battle has become a key component of the history of the United States Marine Corps. The Americans suffered 9777 casualties, included 1811 deaths. There is no clear information on the number of German soldiers killed, although 1,600 were taken prisoner.
9th – The Fourth phase of the Spring Offensive, Operation Gneisenau (also known as Battle of Matz) began on this day. The French had been warned of this attack by information from German prisoners, and their defence in depth reduced the impact of the artillery bombardment on 9th June. Nonetheless, the Germans advanced, with 21 divisions attacking over a 37km/23 mi front along the Matz River, resulting in an advance of 14km/9 mi despite fierce French and American resistance. At Compiègne, a French counter-attack on 11 June, by four divisions and 150 tanks with no preliminary bombardment, caught the Germans by surprise and halted their advance. Gneisenau was called off the following day. Despite substantial territorial gains, the Germans do not achieve their strategic goals. Losses for this offensive were approximately 35000 Allied and 30,00 German.