Western Front

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Map of the Western Front and the Race to the Sea, 1914
See Western Front (disambiguation) for other meanings.

Western Front was a term used during the First and Second World Wars to describe the contested armed frontier between lands controlled by Germany to the east and the Allies to the west. A contested armed frontier during a war is called a "front".

There was also an Eastern Front in the First War and another in the Second.

First World War[edit]

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predominantly those of France and the British Empire, were stalled at trenches on the Western Front.
Main article Western Front (World War I)

From the end of the First Battle of Ypres, at the end of the Race to the Sea, until late 1918, the Western Front consisted of a relatively static line of trench systems which stretched from the coast of the North Sea southwards to the Swiss border. In their efforts to break through the opposing lines of trenches and barbed wire entanglements, the opposing forces employed huge artillery bombardments followed by attacks of tens of thousands of soldiers. Battles typically lasted for months and led to casualties measured in the hundreds of thousands for attacker and defender alike, such as the Battle of the Somme, where 20,000 men died on the first day. The Western Front was highly stable, with almost no movement of more than a few hundred yards before 1918. The greatest single expenditure on both sides was for artillery shells, the chief weapon in the war. Since the front was so stable, both sides built elaborate railway networks that brought supplies within a mile or two of the front lines, with horse-drawn wagons used for the final deliveries. In the ten-month battle at Verdun, the French and Germans fired some 10 million shells in all, weighing 1.4 million tons of steel.[1]

Battles on this front were also typified by poor planning and the application of 19th century warfare tactics, such as direct frontal assaults on enemy positions, that were doomed to failure in the face of modern technology. The general result of these huge expenditures of effort was only a small shift, measured in a few kilometres, in a short section of the front.

The principal adversaries on the Western Front, who fielded armies of millions of men, were Germany to the east against France and Britain, with sizable contingents from the Allied empires, especially the British Dominions. The United States entered the war on the side of the Allies in 1917 and by mid-1918 had an army of around half a million men, this rising to a million by the time the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

The Alpine Front between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was a member of the Central Powers, is usually considered to be a separate front.

Second World War[edit]

Main article Western Front (World War II)

The Western Front of the Second World War was generally restricted to the same geographic regions as during the First. During 1940 the front moved much further, as far west as the English Channel and as far east as the line which would become the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Although fighting took place in Norway and Italy, these are not considered as part of the Western Front but as separate campaigns.

The Western Front had three distinct phases during the War of 1939 to 1945.

The first phase lasted from September 1, 1939 until June 25, 1940. It started with the Phony War with the Allies taking up positions which created a front similar to that held during most of the previous War. The first phase lasted until the Germans attacked and won a stunningly fast victory in June 1940. The British had to withdraw the British Expeditionary Force to Britain with an evacuation through Dunkirk and France was forced to capitulate.

The second phase from the late summer of July 1940 until the early summer of June 1944 consisted of a stalemate along the English Channel where neither side was strong enough to invade the other's territory, being limited to smaller raids. The main action during this period was happening in the Eastern Front.

The third and final phase started on June 6, 1944 with the invasion of Normandy on the D-Day of Operation Overlord, when an Allied force consisting of American, British, and Canadian army groups (with units from many other nations), successfully gained a beach head in Normandy in northern France. By the second half of 1944 the front was approximately where the front had been between 1914 and 1918. The war ended on May 9, 1945, with the unconditional surrender of all German forces. By that time, western Allied forces were on a front which stretched from the Baltic east of Denmark, southwards along the river Elbe, through the German/Czechoslovakia border into Austria and North Italy.

Total surrender of the German armed forces on the western front was completed on May 9 when Nazi Germany was forced to cede all remaining territory to the Allies. By this stage, Nazi Germany had very little captured land remaining, apart from Norway, Denmark, parts of the Netherlands, and a few strong points on the western front including the Channel Islands. By May 1945, the war in Europe was over, with total defeat of enemy resistance down to the last few small pockets of resistance remaining after the fall of Berlin. The Red Army marched through Moscow on June 25 to show off Soviet power at the end of the World War in Europe, the date marking the 4th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, launched by Germany for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ John Horne, ed. (2012). A Companion to World War I. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 58, 217–8. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Beckett, Ian F.W., Ypres: The First Battle 1914, (2006) 336pp
  • Chickering, Roger, et al. eds., Great War, Total War: Combat and Mobilization on the Western Front, 1914-1918 (2000) 584 pgs.
  • Coffman, Edward M., The War to End All Wars: The American Military Experience in World War I (1998) excerpt and text search
  • Cruttwell, C. R. M. F., A History of the Great War, 1914-1918 (1934), general military history; British perspective
  • Doughty, Robert A., Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War,. (2005) 592pp, prize-winning analysis
  • Falls, Cyril, The Great War (1960), general military history
  • Gilbert, Martin, The Somme: Heroism and Horror in the First World War (2006) 352pp
  • Gilbert, Martin, The Routledge Atlas of the First World War: The Complete History (2002)
  • Herwig, Holger H., Operation Michael: The “Last Card” (2001), German spring offensive in 1918
  • Horne, Alistair, The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 (2nd ed 1994), very well written narrative
  • Humphries, Mark Osborne, and John Maker, eds. Germany's Western Front: Translations From the German Official History of the Great War, 1915 (Wilfrid Laurier University Press; 2010) 413 pages. First volume in an English translation of Der Weltkrieg, an official German history of the First World War produced between 1925 and 1944 using classified archival records that were destroyed after 1945. excerpt
  • Keegan, John, The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme (1978), a famous study of combat
  • Kennett, Lee, First Air War, 1914-1918 (1999). 288 pp. excerpt and text search
  • Livesey, Anthony, and H. P. Willmott, The Historical Atlas of World War I (1994)
  • Passingham, Ian, All the Kaiser's Men: The Life & Death of the German Army on the Western Front 1914-1918, (2nd ed 2006) 288pp
  • Prior, Robin, and Trevor Wilson, The Somme, (2005), 368pp
  • Prior, Robin, Passchendaele: The Untold Story, (2nd ed. 2002), 272pp
  • Sheldon, Jack, German Army on the Somme, 1914–1916, (2005) 352pp
  • Strachan, Hew, The First World War (2004): a 385pp version of his multivolume history excerpt and text search
    • Strachan, Hew, The First World War: Volume I: To Arms (2004): the major scholarly synthesis. Thorough coverage of 1914 in 1248 pp excerpt online
  • Toland, John, No Man's Land. 1918 - The Last Year of the Great War (1980)
  • Travers, Tim, How the War Was Won: Command and Technology in the British Army on the Western Front, 1917–1918,. London:Routledge (1992) online edition

External links[edit]

See also[edit]