Key Battles of World War One

British Gas Casualties 10 April 1918
British Gas Casualties 10 April 1918. Imperial War Museum via Wikimedia Commons

There were many, many battles during World War One, across a number of fronts. The following is a list of the key battles, with details of dates, which front, and a summary of why they’re notable. All of these battles caused large numbers of casualties, some horrifically high, and many lasted months on end. People didn't just die, although they did that in droves, as many were terrible wounded and had to live with their problems for years.

The scar these battles carved into the people of Europe is becoming increasingly forgotten today as the war is rehabilitated.

1914

Battle of Mons: August 23, Western Front. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) delay the German advance before being forced back. This helps stop a swift German victory.
•Battle of Tannenberg: August 23 – 31, Eastern Front. Hindenburg and Ludendorff make their names stopping the Russian advance; Russia will never do this well again.
First Battle of the Marne: September 6 – 12, Western Front. The German advance is fought to a halt near Paris, and they retreat to better positions. The war will not end quickly, and Europe is doomed to years of death.
•First Battle of Ypres: October 19 – November 22, Western Front. The BEF is worn out as a fighting force; a massive wave of recruits is coming.

1915

•Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes: February. German forces begin an attack which turns into a massive Russian retreat.


•Gallipoli Campaign: February 19 – January 9, 1916, Eastern Mediterranean. The allies attempt to find a breakthrough on another front, but organize their attack badly.
•Second Battle of Ypres: April 22 – May 25, Western Front. The Germans attack and fail, but bring gas as a weapon to the Western Front.


•Battle of Loos: September 25 – Oct 14, Western Front. A failed British attack brings Haig to command.

1916

Battle of Verdun: February 21 – December 18, Western Front. Falkenhayn attempts to bleed the French dry, but the plan goes wrong.
Battle of Jutland: May 31 – June 1, Naval. Britain and Germany meet in a sea battle both sides claim to have won, but neither will risk fighting again.
•The Brusilov Offensive, Eastern Front. Brusilov’s Russians break the Austro-Hungarian army and force Germany to shift troops east, relieving Verdun. Russia’s greatest WW1 success.
Battle of the Somme: July 1 – November 18, Western Front. A British attack costs them 60,000 causalities in less than an hour.

1917

Battle of Arras: April 9 – May 16, Western Front. Vimy Ridge is a clear success, but elsewhere the allies struggle.
•Second Battle of the Aisne: April 16 – May 9, Western Front. The French Nivelle offensives destroy both his career and the morale of the French army.
Battle of Messines: June 7 – 14, Western Front. Mines dug under the ridge destroy the enemy and allow a clear allied victory.
•The Kerensky Offensive: July 1917, Eastern Front. A roll of the dice for the embattled revolutionary Russian government, the offensive fails and the anti-Bolsheviks benefit.


Battle of Third Ypres / Passchendaele – July 21 – November 6, Western Front. The battle which typified the later image of the Western Front as a bloody, muddy waste of life for the British.
Battle of Caporetto: October 31 – November 19, Italian Front. Germany makes a breakthrough on the Italian Front.
Battle of Cambrai: November 20 – December 6, Western Front. Although the gains are lost, tanks show just how much they will change warfare.

1918

•Operation Michael: March 21 – April 5, Western Front. The Germans begin one final attempt to win the war before the US arrives in great numbers.
•Third Battle of the Aisne: May 27 – June 6, Western Front. Germany continues to try and win the war, but is growing desperate.
•Second Battle of the Marne: July 15 – August 6, Western Front. The last of the German offensives, it ended with the Germans no nearer to winning, an army beginning to fall apart, broken morale, and an enemy making clear strides.


•Battle of Amiens: August 8 – 11, Western Front. The Black Day of the German Army: allied forces storm through German defenses and it’s clear who will win the war without a miracle: the allies. Some in Germany realise they have lost.