Plot Largest Offensive in British History.

In East, Germanization of Occupied Lands

Special to The Great War Project

(24-30 August) With the war at Gallipoli all but over now a century ago, with the war on the Western and Eastern Fronts and in Mesopotamia (Iraq) now essentially deadlocked, and with the war in Arabia, Syria, and Palestine still at the planning stage, the First World War sees a lull at the end of the summer 1915.

Yet this lull is deceiving.

More than a year of slaughter leaves the belligerents even more intent on winning the war then when they start it in August 1914.

Russian withdrawal

Russian troops withdrawing from Eastern Europe as Germany conquers Russian territory, summer 1915.

To be sure, there is a small but growing movement in Europe to negotiate a peace. But the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded on all sides – and the panic that the empires of Europe and Asia feel about the uncertainty of their existence once the war ends — leave the war leaders no choice but to continue and even expand the war, to the bitter end.

Germany in particular moves quickly to incorporate the lands it conquers in Eastern Europe into German provinces, which now include Warsaw, the Polish capital; Lemberg, a city in Western Ukraine; Vilna, the capital of Lithuania; and Russian territory as far east as Minsk.

Writes the German supremo General Erich Ludendorff….

“I am determined to resume in the occupied territory that work of civilization at which the Germans had labored in those lands for many centuries.”

In a supremely arrogant observation, Ludendorff writes, “the population, made up as it is of such a mixture of races, has never produced a culture of its own and, left to itself, would succumb to Polish domination.”

“Germanization of the conquered eastern lands was begun at once,” writes historian Martin Gilbert. The German occupiers take steps to Germanize financial, judicial, agricultural, and forestry systems.

“The German nature of these efforts was paramount,” observes Gilbert. “Poles, Lithuanians, and Letts [Latvians] lived under martial law. Political activity was forbidden. No public meetings were allowed. Newspapers were censored. Courts were presided over by German judges. All schoolteachers had to be German.”

The collapse of the Russian army in the east has serious consequences for the British on the Western Front. “If Russia collapsed,” writes historian Adam Hochschild, “it would mean the full weight of German manpower and munitions would fall on Allied forces in the west.”

Russian prisoners-of-war captured by German forces as Germany seizes control of eastern Europe in summer 1915.

Russian prisoners-of-war captured by German forces as Germany seizes control of eastern Europe in summer 1915.

So the British draw up plans for “a decisive battle.” General Sir John French, the senior Commanding General in Frence and Belgium, turns the planning of the offensive over to his subordinate general, Sir Douglas Haig.

Haig is the British general who is tasked with planning the offensive, although similar offensives that he plans earlier in the war end in disaster.

“Haig assured everyone,” reports Hochschild, “that this time they would reach the German rear areas and cut their lines of communication. He told a visiting French general that his men ‘were never in better heart and longing to have a fight.”

Field Marshall Sir Douglas, center, commander of British forces on Western Front.

Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, center, commander of British forces on Western Front.

“Ominously the attack was to take place near the northern French village of Loos, another coal-mining district where slag heaps offered protection to the German defenders and pit-head elevator towers provided perfect observation posts.

The plan grows larger by the day. According to Hochschild, “this would be the biggest land offensive in British military history.”

Writes John Kipling, the son of British writer Rudyard Kipling and a soldier deployed near the front, “This is THE great effort to break through and end the war.”





  1. alex chadwick
    August 30, 2015 at 8:03 PM

    Great reporting, Mike. It’s as though you’re covering contemporary events.

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