The Christmas Truce was long past as were the balmy days of autumn 1914 when the cream of Europe’s youth marched off to war singing “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary,” “Les Marseilles,” and “Deutschland Uber Alles” all safe in the knowledge that the war would be over by winter just as their generals promised. Mons, the Marne, and First Ypres had given the lie to that overly optimist tradition. With the cold of January 1915 came the beginning in earnest of the trench warfare so iconicly associated with our notions of the First World War. Movement along the front ceased and what followed were months of bloody, muddy, and fruitless carnage.
1915 is a bit of the redheaded stepchild of the Great War. It doesn’t have the claims to newness of 1914 or the major meatgrinding battles of 1916 that followed. Truthfully, the year gets short shrift often in works on the war. However, it would be a mistake to think nothing happened in the twelve months between 1914 and 1916. This was the year of the failed French offensives in Artois and Champagne. It was the year the Canadians arrived in Flanders near where a lonely mound of mud called Vimy Ridge waited.
This was the first year of the submarine. Immediately after the war began, Great Britain flung a blockade around the German ports and slowly began cutting off supplies from the Kaiser and his army. While the German High Seas Fleet remained bottled up in port, the unterseebooten were able to slip past the great grey warships of Britain’s Grand Fleet and begin unleashing havoc in the north Atlantic. At first, the u-boats practiced unrestricted warfare and sank anything in sight; unfortunately for the Kriegsmarine, U-20 sank a great prize on May 1, 1915 . . . The RMS Lusitania. The deaths of nearly 100 American passengers aboard the liner woke the sleeping giant and though swift and obsequious German diplomacy soothed the great beast for awhile, she would doze but fitfully for just a few more years before striding across the Pond to defend the country which birthed her.
1915 also marked the first use of arguably the most infamous weapon of the war when the Germans opened cylinders of poison gas which then drifted languidly and deadly across the fields of the Ypres salient to begin the Second Battle of Ypres. Before long, all the combatants rushed in a headlong sprint to develop newer and more effective gasses to kill one another as well and better gas masks to keep their own casualties to a minimum.
The men in the trenches during the early months of 1915 began hearing a strange new sound far above their heads as the first aircraft designed specifically for warfare and aerial combat took to the skies. All throughout the beginning of the hostilities, both sides were using the newly developed airplane for scouting and artillery spotting, but somewhere along the line, some enterprising jake carried a rifle aloft with him and started taking potshots at spotters from other countries. Then someone else took a few grenades up on a mission and began chucking them over the side once they reached the enemy trenches. Before long, both sides had developed planes with forward mounted machine guns and the world of fighter combat opened and in that world, no citizen was a greater star than Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen aka “The Red Baron” who would begin his storied career in 1915.
As a result of the actions taken by the so-called “young Turks” of the Ottoman Empire, 1915 would see the introduction of a new word into the lexicon of warfare and international law — genocide. For the first time in modern history — depending greatly on when one begins counting “modern” — a government actually turned its military and full resources on its own people, not to quell some rebellion or restore order following a natural disaster, but to exterminate a hated minority, in this case the Armenian Christian population. The “forgotten fire” of the Armenian Genocide would later fuel another madman’s idea to exterminate another hated minority population and lead to yet another word — Holocaust.
Finally, 1915 would see the emergence of a future master of puppets arise in Great Britain. First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill would mark his entry onto the world stage with a brilliant idea to end the war. With trench warfare so entrenched along the Western Front, he proposed moving the area of attack somewhere else. His strategy involved redirecting massive numbers of troops from Great Britain and the other Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand from France and Belgium southward across the Mediterranean to the Dardanelles in order to attack what he referred to as, “The soft underbelly of Europe.” The place the troops landed would give its name to the ensuing campaign and the campaign would give Lord Churchill his walking papers from the Admiralty and very nearly political life in general. The name of the chosen landing zone?
Love y’all and keep those feet clean!