What happened during the First World War? – July

1914

5th – Austria-Hungary seeks German support for a war against Serbia in case of Russian militarism. Germany gives assurances of support, the famous ‘blank cheque’.

23rd – The beginning of the ‘Black Week’. Austria-Hungary sends an ultimatum to Serbia, demanding (among other criteria) that Serbia formally and publicly condemn the “dangerous propaganda” against Austria-Hungary, the ultimate aim of which, it claimed, is to “detach from the Monarchy territories belonging to it”. Moreover, Belgrade should “suppress by every means this criminal and terrorist propaganda”. Serbia was given 48 hours to comply. The Serbian response is seen as satisfactory everywhere but in Vienna.

28th – Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. A famous poster was published called ‘To my peoples’ that announced the declaration of war and was signed by Franz Joseph I. The Netherlands declares neutrality.

29th – Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia communicate via telegram.

30th – Germany sends Russia an ultimatum.

1915

9th – German forces in South-West Africa surrender after months of conflict with South African troops.

18th – The Second Battle of the Isonzo began on this day between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops.  This battle was designed after the failure of the First Battle of the Isonzo, a few weeks prior. The overall aims for the offensive were barely changed by the outcomes of the previous offensive but included heavier artillery support. After the heavy artillery bombardment, Italian troops were to advance towards the enemy’s positions. There were severe casualties throughout this offensive on both sides. The battle wore down when both sides ran out of ammunition and is considered a tactical victory for the Italians. The total casualties during the three week battle were about 91,000 men, of which 43.000 Italians and 48000 Austro-Hungarians

25th – During the Second Battle of the Isonzo, Italian troops capture Cappuccio Wood, a position south of Mount San Michele, which was not very steep but dominated quite a large area including the Austro-Hungarian bridgehead of Gorizia. The position was briefly held by Italian forces but was recaptured during a desperate counterattack.

1916

1st – The infamous Battle of the Somme begins on this day. 1st July was the beginning of the Second Battle of Albert, the name given by the British to the first two weeks of the Somme Offensive. Elements from the French Sixth Army and the British Fourth and Third armies attacked the German Second Army from Foucaucourt south of the River Somme northwards across the River Ancre to Serre, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt. The objective of the attack was to capture the German first and second positions.

The German defence south of the Albert-Bapaume road mostly collapsed and the French successfully achieved their objectives, as did the British from the boundary with the French up to the village of Fricourt. The attacks north of this point were unsuccessful in the main. The attack across the Albert–Bapaume road resulted in only in a short advance south of La Boisselle, where the 34th Division suffered the most casualties of any Allied division on 1st July. Further north, the X Corps attack captured the Leipzig Redoubt, failed opposite the village Thiepval and had temporary success on the left flank, where the German front line was overrun by the 36th (Ulster) Division, which captured the Schwaben and Stuff redoubts.

German counter-attacks during the afternoon recaptured most of the lost ground mentioned above and more British attacks against Thiepval were costly failures. North of the Ancre, the attack was a complete failure with no gains made against any objectives. The diversion at Gommecourt was also costly, with only a partial and temporary advance south of the village.

This day is still the bloodiest in the history of the British Army with 57470 casualties, 19240 of whom were killed. The French Sixth Army suffered 1590 casualties and the German 2nd Army lost 10000–12000 men. Orders were issued to continue the offensive on 2 July, exploiting the successes in the southern sector.

1st – The British capture Fricourt during the Second Battle of Albert.

3rd – The British capture La Boisselle during the Second Battle of Albert.

3rd – 12th – The British capture Mametz Wood during the Second Battle of Albert

3rd – 17th – The British captures Ovillers during the Second Battle of Albert and the Battle of Bazentin Ridge

7th – 11th – The British capture Contalmaison during the Second Battle of Albert.

8th – 14th – The British capture Trônes Wood during the Second Battle of Albert.

14th – 17th – The Bazentin Ridge is captured during the Second Battle of Albert.

14th – The battles of Longueval and Delville Wood commence on this day. They continue until the middle of September.

19th/20th – The Battle of Fromelles happened on this day and was carried out by British and Australian troops from the 61st (2nd South Midland) and 5th Australian Division respectively. The objective of the battle was to be a diversion, to keep German troops from the area being moved to bolster numbers down on the Somme, 50 mi (80km) to the south. The attack took place 9.9 mi (16 km) from Lille, near to the Aubers Ridge which had been fought over in 1915.

Preparations for the attack were rushed, the troops involved lacked experience in trench warfare and the power of the German defence was significantly underestimated, the attackers being outnumbered roughly 2:1. The advance took place in daylight, on a narrow front, against defences overlooked by Aubers Ridge, with German artillery on either side free to fire into the flanks of the attack. The attack gained no ground but inflicted some casualties on the Germans. By the next day, the failure was evident, and a captured order had revealed to the Germans the limited nature of the operation. The attack was the first time that Australian troops were used on the Western Front. It has been described “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”. Of the 7080 BEF casualties, 5533 were suffered by the 5th Australian Division; the Germans lost 1600–2000 men and 150 prisoners

23rd – The Battle of Pozieres began on this day and continues until the 7th August. It is the first time that Australian troops fight during the Somme Offensive.

30th – German agents sabotage munition factories in Jersey City that supply the Allies, causing the Black Tom explosion. The explosions destroyed approximately $20m worth of military goods and also damaged the Statue of Liberty. It was one of the largest artificial non-nuclear explosions to have ever occurred. 4 people were killed, and hundreds were injured. This attack was one of many during a German sabotage campaign against the United States, and it is notable for its contribution to the shift of public opinion against Germany, which eventually resulted in American support to enter World War I.

1917

1st – The Kerensky Offensive began on this day. It was the last Russian Offensive of the First World War.  It was ordered by Alexander Kerensky, Minister of War in the Russian provisional government, and led by General Aleksei Brusilov. Kerensky hoped that a Russian victory would gain popular favour and restore morale in the army, which was rapidly deteriorating. Starting on 1st, Russian troops attacked Austro-German forces in Galicia, pushing toward Lviv. After an initial success, the offensive came to a halt because Russian soldiers soon mutinied and refused to fight. It collapsed altogether by the 16th. On the 18th, the Austro-Germans counterattacked, meeting little resistance and advancing through Galicia and Ukraine to the Zbruch River. The Russian lines were broken on the 20th and by the 23rd, the Russians had retreated about 150 mi/240km.

The Russian provisional government was greatly weakened by this military catastrophe, and the possibility of a Bolshevik coup became increasingly real. Instead of strengthening morale, the offensive showed that it no longer existed. No senior officer could be certain that his troops would follow orders anymore. The offensive also contributed to the start of the July Days. Russian casualties totalled 60000, with Austro-German casualties coming to 38000.

11th – The Open Letter to Albert I is published by Flemish Movement sympathisers. The letter sets out a number of grievances relating to the treatment of the Flemish within the Belgian Army fighting on the Yser Front during the First World War, especially concerning the perceived inequality of the French and Dutch languages. It demanded that new legislation to equalise the status of the two languages be introduced after the war. The letter is considered an important moment in the history of the Flemish Movement.

22nd – Siam declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary.

31st – The Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Battle of Passchendaele) begins, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge being the first phase of an offensive that carries on for almost four months. The battle began at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when 2,000 Allied guns opened fire on German lines and 14 British, and two French divisions attacked along 15 miles of the front.

The most significant success was achieved in the north, particularly across Pilckem Ridge.

The British Army captured St Julien, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde Ridge, Hooge, and Sanctuary Wood. The French troops were also successful, regaining Bixschoote from German control.

On the afternoon of 31st July, rain began to fall on the battlefield. Over the following days the shell-damaged ground became a quagmire, severely hampering the advancing troops, and making the movement of artillery, casualties and supplies very difficult. These poor conditions meant that the Allied advance was half of what had been planned for the first three days. In the first three days, there were 27000 British casualties.

1918

4th – The Battle of Hamel began on this day. The battle was a successful attack by Australian Army and US Army infantry, supported by British tanks. The attack was planned and commanded by Lieutenant General John Monash, commander of the Australian Corps and Australian Imperial Force. Many of the tactics employed, such as the use of combined arms, illustrated the evolution of military tactics, from the massed attacks mounted earlier in the war. All of the Allies’ objectives were achieved within 93 minutes, just three minutes longer than Monash’s calculated battle time.

To give the newly arrived American Expeditionary Force combat experience, the five Australian infantry brigades involved were augmented by 10 companies from US Army battalions. However, six of these US infantry companies were withdrawn from the front line before seeing action. Hamel was the first time during World War I that elements of the AEF were commanded operationally by non-American officers. Allied losses amounted to around 1400 killed or wounded. There were 1062 Australian casualties (including 800 dead) and 176 American casualties (including between 13 and 26 killed) during the main attack and a further 142 casualties amongst the 15th Brigade during their diversionary assault around Ville. Around 2,000 Germans were killed and 1,600 captured, along with the loss of much of their equipment.

12th – Haiti declares war on Germany.

15th – Start of the Second Battle of the Marne and last German offensive on the Western Front, which fails when the Germans are counterattacked by the French. The attack failed when an Allied counterattack, supported by several hundred tanks, overwhelmed the Germans on their right flank, inflicting severe casualties. The German defeat marked the start of the Allied advance which culminated in the Armistice with Germany about 100 days later.

17th – Nicholas II and his family are executed by the Bolsheviks, out of fear that they might be released by Czechoslovak and White troops.

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