The World At War 1917 I THE GREAT WAR – Week 128


1916 had seen the three largest battles in
human history thus far take place simultaneously. It had seen the development of the concept
of an air FORCE; it had seen a gigantic naval battle, one of the greatest military humiliations
in British history, and the war growing ever larger as Romania joined the fray. And now… it’s 1917. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week was Christmas, but there was nothing
like a Christmas truce this year. In Romania, the Germans broke the Russian
trenches and took Ramnicu Sarat, and the invasion of Romania continued. The British advanced in the Sinai, but the
other fronts were fairly quiet. There was big news at home in Russia, though,
as Rasputin was assassinated. This week marks the beginning of 1917 and
here is how the battlefronts of the war looked as 1916 came to an end. The Eastern Front, the longest continuous
front in history so far, ran from the Black Sea along the Danube and Sereth Rivers, then
along the Eastern edge of the Carpathian Mountains before heading north. It passed between Lemberg and Tarnopol, headed
to the Pripet Marshes. The Northeastern part of the front remained
mostly immobile, as it had for months on end, passing west of Dvinsk before reaching the
Gulf of Riga west of the city itself. The Western Front zigged and zagged from the
North Sea through Flanders fields, passing the ruined and blasted landscape where the
Battle of the Somme had been fought. Heading south through France to the Aisne
River, then east toward Verdun and the River Meuse, before taking a more southerly course
toward the Vosges and the Swiss Border. The Italian front stretched from the sea around
Gorizia, taken by the Italians in August, around and through the Carnic Alps, down and
around the Trentino before heading north again toward the Julian Alps and the Swiss border. The Macedonian front ran across from the Aegean
through Greece over to Albania, with the Allies holding a small corner of Serbia. In Eastern Anatolia things had remained static
since Bitlis and Mus had changed hands several times in the summer. In Palestine the British had pushed across
the Sinai to El Arish and in Mesopotamia were up the Tigris as far as the outskirts of Kut-al-Amara. Both the Persian and Libyan fronts were occasionally
active and in flux, and down in German East Africa the Battle for Lake Tanganyika was
over, and the Allies were pushing the Germans back in the Rufiji valley. Now that the two Romanian fronts had coalesced
into the southern part of the Eastern Front there were ten active fronts to the war. And the possible end of the war was being
discussed this week. On the final day of 1916, came an Allied note
in response to the German peace note from earlier in December- “No peace is possible
so long as they (we) have not secured reparation of violated rights and liberties, recognition
of the principals of nationalities and of the free existence of small states, so long
as they (we) have not brought about a settlement calculated to end, once and for all, causes
which have so long threatened the nations, and to afford the only effective guarantees
for the future security of the world.” The note then specifically references Belgium,
but no one in the German High Command had at this point any intention of freeing Belgium
under any peace settlement. And there is no way Britain would allow Germany
to have such a strategic base right across the channel. So there will be no peace. A little more detail here: The US was the
only one of the Great Powers not at war. This week on the 4th, President Woodrow Wilson,
recently elected to a second term on the strength of his promise to keep America out of the
war, said, “There will be no war, it would be a crime against civilization for us to
go in.” (Gilbert) He found out two days later that
the German peace plan for “withdrawal from Belgium” wasn’t what it sounded like. Germany demanded the permanent occupation
of Liege, Namur, and other forts, control of Belgian railways and ports, a German military
presence, and Belgium would not be allowed an army of its own. American Ambassador to Berlin James Gerard
told German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, “I do not see that you have left much for
the Belgians, excepting that King Albert will have the right to reside in Brussels…” The Chancellor replied, “We cannot allow
Belgium to be an outpost of Great Britain.” The Allies were making demands of their own
this week, in neutral Greece. Well, first, on December 30th, Greece asked
the Allies to lift the blockade they had imposed a few weeks ago. The next day, the Allies said they would if
Greece met these conditions as a result of the Greek resistance to occupation back on
December 1st. The Greek army and all war materiel must be
transferred to the Peloponnesus. Allied control over public services restored. The Greek government formally apologizes. Allied flags to be flown, publicly, and formally
saluted in Athens. The blockade will continue until this happens. And here are some numbers to mark the end
of 1916. On the Western Front, there were now 127 German
divisions facing 106 French, 56 British, 6 Belgian, and 1 Russian division – 169 total. In August 1914, the British Expeditionary
Force had numbered 160,000 men, it was now 1,591,745. If you think that’s a lot, Russia had 9
million men under arms, Germany had seven, and Austria-Hungary five according to Martin
Gilbert. And a bunch of those men were active this
week in Romania. The Germans, Austrians, Bulgarians, and Turks
had been successful in Romania over the past few months, but by this time German General
Erich von Falkenhayn’s corps commanders told him that his men were beyond the limits
of exhaustion. He proposed to High Command that the campaign
end at Ramnicu Sarat, which had fallen last week. High Command told him he had to take Focsani,
but didn’t say anything one way or another about ending the campaign. His logistical support network was totally
unraveling, though. His headquarters were at Buzau, where there
a railway terminus, and from there supplies had to be loaded to trucks or wagons, but
weather had seriously disrupted traffic, and a mountain of supplies was starting to pile
up. He was also, by this time, worried about typhus
and cholera, both of which had sprung up in the POW camps, and could conceivably spread
to his hospitals or active troops. On the night of the 1st, a cavalry division
didn’t take proper precaution and were surprised by the Russians, who took 9 officers and 425
soldiers prisoner, as well as some artillery pieces. Now, to the east, German Field Marshall August
von Mackensen’s troops had nearly reached the Sereth River. And the Russians were abandoning Dobrogea
and retreating north of the Sereth and the Danube, chased by the Bulgarian Third Army. Thing is, since early December the Bulgarians
had threatened Braila, where the Danube and Sereth met, but they hadn’t been able to
take it. This week, though, Mackensen sent two German
divisions to attack it from the unguarded landside, and it fell on the 4th. And here are some notes to end the week. On December 30th, the British and Chinese
governments make an agreement for a Chinese Labor Corps in France. On the 3rd, the first Portuguese units land
in France, and British Commander Sir Douglas Haig received a “well-earned” promotion
to Field Marshall, and at the end of the week, after months of quiet, the Mesopotamian front
comes alive as the battle of Kut begins. And that was the week. Central Powers gains in Romania in spite of
exhaustion, Allied demands in Greece, and political posturing from both about a peace
that can’t be made. One of the three enormous battles I mentioned
at the beginning was the Battle of Verdun. Historian Alistair Horne had this to say about
it, “Neither side won at Verdun. It was the indecisive battle in the indecisive
war; the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war; the battle that had no victors in a war
that had no victors.” It’s a new year, and I’d like to close
the last one with thoughts of that battle, the battle that, in many ways, defined 1916,
the year of battles. Ten months that battle raged, and by the end
of it, all the Germans had to show for a third of a million casualties was destroyed land
that was about the size of the London parks put together. I got that comparison from Horne in his book
“The Price of Glory”, and I’m going to end today with another quote from him. “It is probably no exaggeration to call
Verdun the worst battle of history, even taking in account man’s subsequent endeavors in
the Second World War. No battle has ever lasted quite so long; Stalingrad…
had a duration of only five months, compared with Verdun’s ten. Though the Somme claimed more dead than Verdun,
the proportion of casualties suffered to the numbers engaged was notably higher at Verdun
than any other First World War battle; as indeed were the numbers of dead in relation
to the area of the battlefield. Verdun was the First World War in microcosm;
an intensification of all its horrors and glories, courage and futility.” The year of battles is over, but the war grows
ever more bloody. Happy New Year. If you want to know more about the Assassination
of Rasputin that also happened last week, click right here to check that out. Our Patreon supporter of the week is Quinn
Norton. Support us on Patreon to get more maps and
more animations. Follow us on Instagram for more WW1 pictures. See you next week.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. Well earned promotion??? Its been a while, but the last time I watched several videos he was being called the "butcher of the somme"….I'll have to go back and see what kind of miracle he pulled out of his ass to somehow get a promotion.

  2. One can assume the majority of casualties came from the infanry. Do we know casualty counts for the other types of soldiers? For example what percentage of the Artillery units took casualties? Medical personal? Supply? What type of units were considered the "safest" to be assigned to?

  3. Hey Indy, any chance you could do a "who did what in WW1" episode on Mohandas Ghandi? I bet a lot of people don't know the famed "pacifist" was actually an ardent support of the British war effort.

  4. I love how y'all split it by years! This channel just gets better and better. Too bad I won't be around for a WWII version. haha Well, maybe, if I can last that long…

  5. Alister Horn is wrong! Of course, he had right in conclusion about: "(…) the unnecessary battle in an unnecessary war;" BUT whether this war there were no winners? My country, Poland was the victor of this war. Firstly, after 123 years Poland was the independent country again. The same we can say about many of nations in Central Europe like Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians etc. Even more, the first time was born the idea of independence among the Ukrainians! And end of war? Simply the disaster… The real end of war would be only the parade of the Alies forces among the ruins of Berlin, and with the court against the guilty of unleashing the war politicians like – Kaiser Wilhelm II, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, Arthur Zimmerman and others…

  6. Hi Flo, another add interrupted Indy mind-sentence at 7:57. Is it possible to time these when he finishes an idea. The new animations of controlled areas are awesome!!

  7. Hi Indy and team I was wondering what role the Lebanese played in The Great War
    I know they were citizens of the Ottoman Empire but were they conscripted into the Ottoman military and if so what role did they play ? were the Christian Lebanese treated any differently than the Muslim Lebanese were under Ottoman rule? PS love the show great job.

  8. I'm a little ahead in the time line. I was wondering that after Russia surrendered was there any attempt by Germany to sue for peace with the West basically making no demands. The reason I'm thinking is that 1/3 of Russia was occupied by Germany and would there even be a need to have a large colonial empire in the world or any need for territorial demands. Was there anyone in Germany who proposed that angle to bring the war to a close? I know that the Allies basically didn't want to surrender due to the demand and surrender of territory Russia gave to Germany. But still, it would seem if you didn't want American's impact on the war felt you would try to get hostilities halted. It would have been an apparent victory for Germany I think.

  9. Discovered the channel relatively recently, and have been marathoning ever since. I even eat my lunch at my desk, so that I can squeeze two episodes to my lunch break. It's astonishing realization for me, how criminally ignorant I was. I doubt that any horror movie will be able to scare me in my life anymore. THE BEST CHANNEL EVER!

  10. For everyone saying "Last year of the War" and what not, the War lasted until mere days from 1919. 1918 is NOT going to be short or sweet….

  11. I have another question…What if any did the surrendered portion of Western Russia contribute either economically or militarily to the German War effort in 1918?

  12. I thought I would add that my Grandfather and his 3 brothers enlisted for the U.S. Army almost a 100 years ago today. According to his DD-214, my Grandfather fought in every major American engagement and it appeared that he was gassed at the end of the war. He died when he was 45 years of age reportedly just collapsing while hanging laundry. The rest of his brothers lived longer and as far as I know were not gassed. My question is, what sort of statistics if any were kept on those veterans who were gassed and lived passed the war?

    You guys are doing a great job! This will be a great resource for future generations. Excellent!

  13. FINALLY! I've been burning through the week by week vids for about a month and a half and now I'm FINALLY in the same year. Can't wait to officially watch along week to week and get the full experience.

  14. I feel TGW should do a special on Franz von Papen (a quick search did not indicate that he had been covered, though I could be wrong). He was a military attache and one of Germany's chain of incompetent diplomats, engaging in a good deal of foolhardy intrigue. He also dropped a diary on the ground after a skirmish in Palestine, giving the British a fair amount of information when they found it. He was to help Hitler's rise to power, assuming that Hitler would be easy to control.

  15. Let's get that Great War 2 in 2031 when the Japanese invades the Chinese. Oh and Great Depression too.

  16. I am sure the war will be over by next Christmass. How much longer can this madness last?

    Well, I sincerely hope that The Great War crew won't retire from YouTube after this. They have been steadily improving. I hope shellshock or anything else doesn't make them set it all aside.

  17. They promoted Haig after the Somme? Unless they had a lack of high ranking officers, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??

  18. I happened to just stop studying and put this back on exactly when the clock said 19:17. That seems almost ominous.

  19. I'm a bit late for this story but 100 years ago this week my great grand father was involved into an event that remains quite vivid in Belgium. He lived in the Liège region when the war broke out and he didn't have the time to enlist when Germany overtook the city. Since they were trapped behind the front line, he and his brothers had waited ever since for a way to join what remained of the Belgian army in Ypres. On the night of the 3 january, they went on board of the Atlas V, a tugboat on the Meuse river piloted by Jules Hentjens and Charles Balbour. Hentjens was a resistant since the beginning of the war and he wanted to help volunteers like my great grand father to cross the border with Netherlands so that they could join the front line. He had spent nights reinforcing his boat with steel plates while his wife and sister had recruited a total of 103 people for the expedition. It was very cold that night and the current was violent because of the recent bad weather. This was actually an ideal situation since the barrages on the river had to be lifted to avoid a flood. But it also made the navigation much more dangerous as the sand banks were now larger. When it went underway, the Altas could float for a while without making noise, drifting on the current. It passed Herstal and Jupille without getting noticed, but when it reached Hermalle (about 15 kilometers away from the border) the boat was spotted by a sentry who gave the alarm. They soon were chased by a german patrol boat that tried to approach the Altas by behind. But Hentjes suddently put the engine at full speed and the german boat got stuck into the wake and was sunk by the current. The Germans had set up machine guns and spotlights on the riverbank, so the Atlas was soon under heavy fire from both sides. In Visé, the Germans had built a wooden bridge to replace the railway bridge that was blown out by the army during the retreat. The Atlas was almost as large as the space between pillars! Hentjens went through anyway, tearing off a pillar and 20 meters of the bridge, throwing machine gunners into the Meuse. In the boat, the passengers are badly shaken by the impact. When leaving Visé, they were met by an armorer boat that barred the river and fired at them. Since they didn't have much choice, Hentjes and Balbour rammed the German ship and sunk it on the spot. Last obstacle : the Germans had stretched steel chains and electrified wires across the river at the border. Hopefully, the Altas had enough momentum to cut through. They crossed the border at Eijsden around 1am and nobody (I think) was hurt in the Atlas. In the morning, the German sent a commando to capture Hentjes, but he could escape. His wife and sisters were arrested tough, the rest of the passengers were greeted by expatriated families. My great grand father and his three brothers took a boat to England, enlisted in the army, then join the King at Ypres. They were lucky enough to all make it back after the war and I don't know much about what happened there, but when you compare the before/after pictures of them, you can see that something changed in their eyes.

  20. So, how accuarate are the lines that your map shows of the front lines? can you guys actually precisely depict every inch of the frontline in such a messy and humonguos war? in an era before satelite imagery or GPS?

  21. Haig's promotion to Field Marshal was "well deserved?" With great respect Indy (this series is fantastic), Haig's orders for day one of The Somme caused the deaths of 20,000(!) of his soldiers and should have resulted in his dismissal. Haig was a product of the imperious arrogance of 19th century England, carried into the 20th by the absurd notion that "gentlemen" were naturally suited to command. If Haig had been willing to get his boots dirty and gone to the front lines, he might have seen that his estimation that past failures were a consequence of the "lack of fighting spirit" was stupidity. Haig has been treated much too kindly by history.

  22. The germans were diplomatic idiots, they conauered a big pice of russia and austria had accomplished all its goals and wanted peace

  23. The Somme wasn't a humiliation for Britain. Despite being deprived of a lot of the promised French support due to Verdun, having to start the offensive a month earlier than planned and having to attack uphill, the inexperienced British army, which had been raised from scratch following almost all the peacetime army being killed in 1914, was able to wear down the battle-hardened German army to such exhaustion that it had to retreat to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917 to stay in the war.

  24. I once spent a day visiting the ruins at Verdun. Douaumont, Mort-Homme etc. It's memorable. After a while you are almost in shock. It's a monstrous horror ..

  25. Entente: "We are fighting to preserve the independence and existance of small states"
    Also Entente: * Occupying Greece and disrupting their sobereigny *

  26. not sure where i left off all those months ago when i stopped following week-by-week, guess i'll start here. Got some catching up to do before the big finale this fall!

  27. Except that to call it the worst battle of history is an exaggeration, the seige of Leningrad lasted far longer(Sept. 1941-Jan 1944) and caused far higher casualties(3 fold) to both the beligrents as well as the civilian populace.

  28. A New Year. A fresh start. Time to hit the reset button and let General Luigi Cardona try an offensive against the Austrians.

  29. wow! The Entente demands upon 'neutral' Greece are almost as outrageous as German expectations upon Belgium.

  30. Have you done one on the british and german naval arms race and the great battle of jutland? I cant find it if you have. If not you should do one. It's exciting stuff.

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