How Week 11 of the Great War Debunked the Idea that ‘the War Will Be Over By Christmas’

Week 11 of the Mediakraft Networks YouTube show The Great War, written and presented by Indiana Neidell.

This video explains how the initial optimism about the duration of the war ebbed away as it became clear to all sides that no clear victor was emerging and the rapid advances of the first weeks were not being replicated especially in the west where trench warfare was becoming the norm slowing the pace of any advances.

1. Antwerp Falls

The German attack had begun the week before but they did not really concentrate their attention there until after the 6 October when they were repelled at Arras at by Ferdinand Foch.

The Belgian force was reinforced by a full 22,000 British man division as well as 8,000 British recruits who had arrived earlier. Nonetheless the French refusal to commit men to the city  diminished their defensive capability. On 7 October the Germans bombarded the city with howitzers, the Belgian guns lacked the range of the German artillery and so they were powerless to retaliate. On 8 October the British pulled out and two days later the king of Belgium fled the city.

The length of the siege allowed the British and French to adjust their defensive positions elsewhere preventing the Germans from capitalizing on the ir siezure of the Belgian capital. This finalized the sense that the war could not be won by rapid advances and set the stage for the long term trench warfare which characterized the war from then on.

2. Russians Advance on the Vistula

In the east German confidence was diminished after discovering the Russians had 60 divisions against the 18 German ones. This discouraged Hindenburg from bold offensive manoeuvres. Instead he pursued a policy of small scale victories which served him well and maintained a German presence in Poland.

3. Stalemate at Przemyśl Continues

In the 11th week the Russians were still besieging the fortress, having lost 40,000 soldiers in the intial assault. Unstable terrain continued to impede their use of artilery and the siege was unresolved at the end of the week.

4. Hindenburg’s Success in Poland

At Przemyśl the Russians were unable to get reinforcements since, despite numerical infereriority, Hidenburg was keeping the rest of the army held up in Russia. By carefully selecting his battles Hindenburg prevented his force being overwhelmed by the Russians. By the end of the 11th week he was making progress toward Warsaw.

5. Empire’s Rally Minority Support

The majority of eastern front fighting was now taking place in regions of the great empires populated mainly by minorities. Many Poles living within the Russian Empire took up arms with the Germans hoping to gain liberation from Russia. In the areas of Poland within the Austro-Hungarian Empire Poles joined the Imperial army forming an officially recognized polish legion.

There were also Poles fighting with the Russians hoping that supporting them would lead to more representation in the Empire after the war. The Russian government also became slightly more tolerant toward Jews, allowing them to attain commissions as army officers from which they had traditionally been barred . This did nothing however to allay anti-semitism among the general population and Jews, regardless of affiliation to the military, were persecuted as scapegoats for wartime hardships.

Bolstering one’s forces by recruiting national minorities became more important as it became clear that, despite heavy losses, no one was close to a deciseve victory.

Alex is a history student at King's College London focusing on Europe and the Near East in the Middle Ages. He currently works writing and editing content for madefromhistory.