Great Britain

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by liverpool annie, Jan 2, 2009.

  1. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    At the beginning of the 20th century the British Empire covered more than 11,400,000 square miles of territory. This made it the largest empire the world had ever known. The foundations for the empire were laid between 1750 and 1850 during which Britain acquired India, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, several islands in the West Indies and various colonies on the African coast. The late 19th century saw the acquisition of new territories in Africa and by 1900 the British king, Edward VII, reigned over 410 million people.

    The British Empire was protected by a Royal Navy that included 18 modern dreadnoughts, 29 battleships (pre-dreadnought design), 10 battlecruisers, 20 town cruisers, 15 scout cruisers, 200 destroyers and 150 cruisers.

    By 1914 Britain was no longer the dominant economic power in Europe. It still had the world's largest shipbuilding industry but in other areas such as coal, iron, chemicals and light engineering, Britain was out-performed by Germany.

    In 1914 Britain was a constitutional monarchy under George V. The government was formed by the majority party of the House of Commons. Members of this parliament were elected by some 8 million registered male voters. The aristocratic House of Lords had limited power to veto legislation.

    The Liberal Party had governed Britain since 1906. Senior members of the government included Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister), Sir Edward Grey (Foreign Secretary) and David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer). Ramsay MacDonald (Labour Party) and Andrew Bonar Law (Conservative Party) led the main opposition parties in the House of Commons.

    Since the later part of the 19th century the British government had considered Germany to be the main threat to its empire. This was reinforced by Germany's decision in 1882 to form the Triple Alliance. Under the terms of this military alliance, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy agreed to support each other if attacked by either France or Russia.

    France felt threatened by the Triple Alliance. Britain was also concerned by the growth in the German Navy and in 1904 the two countries signed the Entente Cordiale (friendly understanding). The objective of the alliance was to encourage co-operation against the perceived threat of Germany. Three years later, Russia, who also feared the growth in the German Army, joined Britain and France to form the Triple Entente.

    By August 1914, Britain had 247,432 regular troops. About 120,000 of these were in the British Expeditionary Army and the rest were stationed abroad. There were soldiers in all Britain's overseas possessions except the white dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

    The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) had been established in May 1912. By 1914 the RFC had 110 aircraft (BE-2, Farman MF-7, Avro 504, Vickers FB5, Bristol Scout, F.E.2) and 6 airships.
  2. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    After the Boer War, the British war minister, Richard Haldane, created the British Expeditionary Army (BEF), in case it was necessary to take part in a foreign war. By August 1914, there were about 120,000 soldiers in the BEF.

    On the outbreak of the First World War, it was decided to send Sir John French and four infantry division to Belgium. By October 1914 the BEF had seven infantry and three cavalry divisions in France and Belgium.

    In December the British Expeditionary Army was divided into the First and Second Army. A Third Army was created in July 1915 and a Fourth Army in March 1916.

    Sir John French remained in charge of the until December 1915, when he was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig.

    Annie :)
  3. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Frontline Trenches

    Soldiers in the First World War did not spend the whole of the time in the trenches. The British Army worked on a 16 day timetable. Each soldier usually spent eight days in the front line and four days in the reserve trench. Another four days were spent in a rest camp that was built a few miles away from the fighting. However, when the army was short of men, soldiers had to spend far longer periods at the front. It was not uncommon for soldiers to be in the front line trenches for over thirty days at a time. On one occasion, the 13th Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment spent fifty-one consecutive days in the line.

    Being in the front-line was extremely dangerous. Almost every day some enemy shells would fall on the trenches. One study suggested that one-third of all casualties on the Western Front were killed or wounded while in the trenches.

    Soldiers in the front line would also be hit by their own artillery. Despite the use of a high parados in the front-line trenches, it has been estimated that about 75,000 British soldiers in the war were killed by British shells that had been intended for the Germans.
  4. Rigby44

    Rigby44 Member

    Britain's military position in 1914 is a little more complicated than simple statistics suggest. In 1906-12 Haldane had reformed the Army in the light of British experiences in the Boer War and in view of his Liberal Party's less than enthusiasm for Imperial Adventures and more pro-European stance (much as today). His reforms involved breaking up Regiments into two Regular Battalions and several Territorial Battalions based on local communities. Of the two Regular Battalions one would be Home based as part of a potential Expeditionary Force ready for action in Europe, the other abroad serving in the Empire. An example would be the South Lancashire Regiment. In 1914 the 1st Battalion was in India and remained there throughout the War. The 2nd Battalion was part of the BEF and went to France in August 1914. The 3rd Battalion remain in the UK and acted as a training battalion to feed recruits into the 2 Battalion as the fighting took its toll. Then there were two Territorial Battalions the 4th and 5th based on the industrial towns of Warrington and St.Helens; part-time soldiers whose contract only required them to carry out Home Service. In 1914 the men in the Territorials had to "volunteer" to fight abroad. As losses mounted among the regular units these Territorial units were fed into the fighting mostly in the winter of 1914-15. In 1914 Lord Kitchener asked for large numbers of Volunteers to swell the army. He realised the war would be long, bloody and heavy in casualties. These Volunteer Battalions (often called Pals Battalions) were frequently numbered as the 2/ Battalion of a Territorial unit. Thus the St Helen's Pals Battalion was 2/5 Battalion. Why is this information of use to the military historian ?
    In any discussion of the Great War the nature of the fighting force is crucial to any understanding of the complexity and problems of command. The British Army in 1914 was a tight little regular well trained force. By 1915 it was less so. By 1916 it was largely civilians in uniform. It took another two years to make it an effective military force again. The Learning curve of the British Army in the First World War has long been a hidden feature of this conflict. It is perhaps time we reassessed the performance of the British in World War in the same way we might for the Army of the Potomac in the American Civil War.

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