Teaching and Learning History - 032216

Lesson Ideas

Ten Reasons that 1916 Was the
Most Important Year of the First World War

by Dr. Justin Quinn Olmstead
University of Central Oklahoma

Following the August 1914 German invasion of Belgium and France and the ‘Miracle of the Marne’ only forty-five days later, the First World War turned into the trench warfare most people are familiar with. The next year would see strategic thinking limited to the use of artillery, infantry assaults, and the introduction of gas in the hopes of breaking through to the enemy’s rear. Away from carnage in France and Flanders, were the battles fought in Asia between the Russians and Ottoman’s and the disastrous British attempt to invade the Turkey at the Gallipoli peninsula. Greece would be forced to join the Allies and Serbia would be defeated. As the year 1915 wound down and another Christmas at war came and went, the war showed no signs of ending with approximately 2.6 million men added to an ever-growing list of casualties. Everyone, civilians, leaders, and soldiers alike hoped the New Year would bring an end to the fighting. To this end, leaders on each side laid out their plans to win the war in 1916.

"Field Uniforms of Our Enemies in the West"
German wall chart of early First World War army uniforms
Image Courtesy of the Imperial War Museums
  1. On February 21, German forces attacked the French fortress of Verdun in an effort to ‘bleed the French white.’ Close to 400,000 Frenchmen and 340,000 Germans became casualties in the war’s first deliberate battle of attrition.
  2. March 9: Pancho Villa attacks Columbus, New Mexico.
  3. April 24: In what becomes known as the Easter uprising, Irish nationalists rise up in an attempt to gain independence.
  4. May 4: Germany agrees to limit its submarine warfare.  Resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare becomes one of many factors in the United States entering the war less than a year later.
  5. May 15: Austria began its ‘Punishment expedition’ against the Italians. Despite high casualties on both sides it only succeeded in diverting Austrian forces from the Russian front. 

    "Who's Absent? Is It You?" ca. 1916.
    Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London (77A)

  6. May 31: The Battle of Jutland confirmed British superiority at sea despite higher loses.
  7. June 4: Russia would attack along a 300 mile long front. The Brusilov Offensive, as it would become known, shattered the Austrian army and led to Romania’s entry into the war on 17 August.
  8. July 1: The British attempted to break the German lines at the Somme. This ‘battle’ would claim the lives of 1,200,000 men.
  9. October: Belgian men begin being deported to Germany for forced labor.
  10. December 12: Germany makes a peace offer that is rejected out of hand by the allies.