Great War Timeline
On Sunday, 28 June 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist.
This incident lit the fuse that started the Great War. In what is probably one of history's
most momentous events, the Archduke's chauffeur had missed his turn and driven the car down the wrong street right by the point where the would-be assassin just happened to be standing.
This event merely precipitated a conflict between the major European powers, which by then had already become inevitable. The main causes were the aspirations, fears and misunderstandings of
Britain, France, Russia and Germany. All of them, in their different ways, considered that their vital interests were threatened.
Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the assassination and attacked on Tuesday, 28 July 1914. Russia came to the assistance of Serbia and Germany to that of Austria-Hungary. Germany then declared war on France because it
was Russia's ally and Britain declared war on Germany when it invaded Belgium and Luxembourg on its advance towards Paris.
Consequently, the date when the Great War (World War One) actually started was the 28 July 1914, although Britain was not involved for another seven days when Germany violated Belgian neutrality.
The British declaration of war on Germany was on Tuesday, 04 August 1914 at 23:00 (11:00pm, midnight in Berlin) and it ended 4 years and 99 days later with an Armistice,
which came into effect on Monday, 11 November 1918 at 11:00 (11:00am).
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on Saturday, 28 June 1919, five years after the assassination of
Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The negotiations took place in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. The treaty became effective on Saturday, 10 January 1920 following its ratification
by the governments concerned, namely: Germany (Central Power), France, British Empire, Italy, United States of America and Japan (Allied Powers).
Other treaties resulting from the Paris Peace Conference were: St Germain (Austria), Trianon (Hungary), Neuilly (Bulgaria) and Sèvres (Turkey/Turkish Empire), all Central Powers.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a separate treaty signed on the 3 March 1918 between the new Soviet Government of Russia and the Central Powers.
- Fri, 19 April 1839
- The Treaty of London was signed. Under the terms of this treaty the European powers recognised and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium and
confirmed the independence of the German-speaking part of Luxembourg.
Article VII required Belgium to remain perpetually neutral and by implication committed the signatory powers to guard that neutrality in the event of invasion.
The treaty was between Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia and Russia on the one part and Belgium on the other. The Plenipotentiaries who signed the treaty were:
Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary.
Senfft von Pilsach, Austrian Minister.
H. Sebastiani, French Minister.
Gabriele von Bulow, Prussian Minister
Carlo Andrea Pozzo di Borgo, Russian Diplomat.
Sylvan van de Weyer, Belgium Ambassador to Britain.
On Tue, 4 August 1914 the German Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, described the Treaty of London as “a scrap of paper” in his final meeting with the British Ambassador to Germany, Sir Edward Goschen.
- Sun, 28 June 1914
- In Sarajevo, Bosnia, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The assassination of the Archduke started the Great War and
the unparalleled carnage that was to follow.
- Tue, 28 July 1914
- The Great War effectively commenced when Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia but Britain was not involved for another seven days.
- Sat, 1 August 1914
- Germany declared war on Russia.
- Mon, 3 August 1914
- Germany declared war on France.
- Tue, 4 August 1914 at 23:00 (11:00pm, midnight in Berlin)
- Britain declared war on Germany because of its violation of Belgian neutrality under the terms of the Treaty of London of 1839.
The Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, commented that, “The lamps will go out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
- Fri, 7 August 1914
- The British Expeditionery Force (BEF) crossed to France to try and halt the German advance as they implemented their Schlieffen Plan.
A series of battles ensued, collectively known as the
Battle of Frontiers.
- Fri, 21 August 1914
- L/14196 Private John Parr of the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment is believed to be the first British casualty of the war. He was buried in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium. Grave Ref. I.A.10.
- Sun, 23 August 1914
- Japan declared war on Germany. It declared war with Austria-Hungary on Tue, 25 August 1914.
- Sun, 23 August 1914 - Mon, 24 August 1914
- This was the first major action of the BEF where attempts were made to hold the line of the Mons-Condè Canal against the advancing German First Army.
The German Army was stronger and the BEF was forced to begin its long retreat from Mons, which ended on Sat, 5 September 1914. During the retreat the BEF acquired the nickname ‘The Old Contemptibles’.
The British 4th Division, under the command of Major General Thomas D’Oyly Snow, arrived at the front on Tue, 25th August 1914, and it was ordered to establish defensive positions at Le Cateau-Cambrésis.
On the following day the
Battle of Le Cateau was fought during which the 4th Division was overwhelmed.
The 1914 Star, also known as the Mons Star, was awarded for military service in France and Belgium between Wed, 5 August 1914 and midnight on Sun, 22 November 1914.
That is, from Britain’s original participation in the war until the final day of the
First Battle of Ypres.
- Fri, 28 August 1914
- This was the first naval engagement of the war and it took place in the south-eastern North Sea when the British attacked German patrols off the north-west coast of Germany.
The British had one light cruiser heavily damaged with 35 fatalities and the Germans lost six ships with 712 fatalities.
- Thu, 29 October 1914
- Turkey entered the war on the side of the Central Powers.
- Mon, 21 December 1914
- The first German air raid on Britain occurred.
- Thu, 22 April 1915 - Tue, 25 May 1915
- This battle marked the first use of poison gas by the German army.
- Sat, 25 April 1915 - Sun, 9 January 1916
- The invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsular in the Dardanelles, Turkey, was a great disaster for the Allies. High casualty rates from enemy action and disease eventually precipitated a
complete withdrawal. However, there was no loss of life during the evacuation of Sulva Bay and Anzac Cove on Tue, 19 December 1915 - Wed, 20 December 1915 or during the evacuation of Helles on
Sat, 8 January - Sun 9 January 1916.
- Fri, 7 May 1915
- RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat and of the 1,959 people on board, 1,198 died, including 128 Americans.
This event angered Americans and hastened the entrance of the United States into the war.
Lusitania was sunk about 11 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale lighthouse, Ireland. She had sailed from New York on the 1 May 1915 bound for Liverpool.
- Mon, 28 June 1915
- SS Armenian was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-24 with the loss of 1,422 mules and 29 crew, mostly Americans. Armenian was sunk off Trevose Head,
North Cornwall. She had sailed from the USA bound for Bristol and the mules were to replace those lost in the battles on the Western Front.
- Sat, 25 September 1915 – Mon, 18 October 1915
- This British offensive consisted of six divisions and after considerable success on the first day the momentum was lost because reserves were held too far away to
exploit the early success. Subsequently, it became mired as a battle of attrition with only minor gains. This battle is notable for the first use of poison gas by the British Army.
Casualties were high with the British losing 50,000 and the Germans 25,000.
- Mon, 21 February 1916 - Wed, 20 December 1916
- At 304 days long this was the longest battle of the war. It was between the German and French armies and it took place on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in north-eastern France.
Firstly, the German Fifth Army attacked the defences of the Région Fortifiée de Verdun and those of the Second Army, garrisoned on the right bank of the river Meuse, planned to quickly capture the Côtes de Meuse,
from which Verdun could be overlooked and bombarded with artillery fire. The German strategy was intended to provoke the French into attacking them in an attempt to drive them off the heights.
The Germans captured ground early in the battle but the French contained the German advance and were able to recapture much of the lost territory towards the end of 1916.
- Wed, 31 May 1916 - Thu, 1 June 1916
- This was the only major naval battle of the war. The British lost 14 ships with over 6,000 casualties while the Germans lost 9 ships with over 2,500 casualties. The Germans claimed victory but
the German fleet was never again in a position to put to sea in order to challenge the Royal Navy in the North Sea.
J/42563 Boy 1st Class John 'Jack' Travers Cornwell was posthmously awarded the Victoria Cross for remaining at his post at the forward gun of HMS Chester during the battle. He was 16-years old.
One ship that took part in the battle has survived and she is HMS Caroline. She is a C-class light cruiser and she is now moored in perpetuity in Alexandra Dock, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
- Sat, 24 June 1916 - Fri, 30 June 1916
- British and French Forces began a seven day artillery bombardment of the German front line on the Somme, which was a prelude to the
Battle of the Somme that commenced on Sat, 1 July 1916.
- Sat, 1 July 1916 at 07:30 (7:30am) – Sat, 18 November 1916
- This battle epitomised the horrors of trench warfare. By the end of the first day 19,240 British soldiers had lost their lives and the number of casualties, killed and wounded, was 57,470.
When the battle finally ended after 141 days there had been more than a million casualties on both sides. During the battle the Allies gained about five miles of land.
At zero hour whistles were blown and troops scrambled up ladders to go over the top. There was no running, instead they were ordered to walk across No Man’s Land towards the enemy front line.
They were met with an enfilade of relentless machine gun fire and thousands of men were cut down in minutes. During this battle Lord Kitchener’s Volunteer Army was virtually wiped out and
British military historians have described it as ‘the death of an army’.
The purpose of this battle was to relieve the French at the
Battle of Verdun (21 February - 20 December 1916) where they were experiencing severe losses.
The Allied High Command decided to attack the Germans and other
Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria) at the Somme, north of Verdun, by means of a series of large combined strikes in different locations and in so doing cause the Germans
to move some troops from the Verdun battlefield to the Somme battlefield.
- Fri, 15 September 1916
- The first British tanks went into action during the
Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which was a subsidiary action during the Battle of the Somme. 49 tanks were made available for the
offensive but only 15 of them were able to participate in the action because of their unreliability.
- Fri 6 April 1917
- The USA declared war on Germany.
- Mon 9 April 1917 - Thu, 12 April 1917
Battle of Vimy Ridge was the most crucial part of the Battle of Arras. Vimy Ridge is nine miles long and it extends from the valley of the Scarpe in
front of Arras to the valley of the Souchez.
As it was of strategic importance it was captured by the Germans in October 1914. The Allied High Command considered that its recapture was essential and accordingly the Germans were
removed from their trenches in a sequence of
concentrated attacks by Canadian troops. It was during this battle that these troops distinguished themselves for their bravery and skill in recapturing and holding the ridge for the Allies. During the offensive the
Canadians suffered over 10,000 casualties.
The battle is notable for several advances in military expertise. A series of tunnels were dug, the purpose of which was twofold. Some tunnels were dug to provide cover for troops approaching the front line while others were
dug below enemy trenches to allow mines to be placed below them. A creeping barrage of artillery fire was employed to give protection to troops as they crossed No Man’s Land towards the German trenches.
The surveying technique of triangulation was used to establish the location of enemy gun emplacements so that they could be accurately shelled. By this method the location of a gun emplacement was calculated by the
formation of a triangle having the gun emplacement point and two known points as the vertices of a triangle. The measurement of distance and direction of the gun emplacement was then made by the application of trigonometry.
Spotter planes were also used to assist in this process with messages being transmitted from the planes to the ground using Morse code.
- Thu, 7 June 1917 - Thu, 14 June 1917
- The British Second Army took the Messines – Wytschaete Ridges in an offensive preceded by the detonation of nineteen mines under Messines Ridge dug below German trenches. Two more failed to detonate, one of which exploded
years afterwards during a thunderstorm. The blasts caused around 10,000 casualties and were heard in London. This battle was a prelude to the much larger
Battle of Passchendaele.
- Tue, 31 July 1917 at one hour before dawn - Sat, 10 November 1917
- This battle, also known as the ‘Battle of Mud’, was one of appalling misery that resulted in some 250,000 British casualties and even more German casualties.
Passchendaele is considered to be one of the most important battles of the war because it held the line while the French recovered and the Americans settled in. This enabled the Allied Powers to bring the war to an end in 1918.
- Tue, 20 November 1917 at 06:20 (6:30am) – Fri, 7 December 1917
- This was the first battle in which tanks were used en mass and in association with heavy artillery, air power and even cavalry.
The town of Cambrai was important because it contained a strategic railhead as well as being close to the Hindenberg Line, an important German defensive position.
On Mon, 3 December 1917 Field Marshal Douglas Haig gave the order for units still near Cambrai to begin withdrawing.
Earlier in 1917, between the 9 February and 20 March, the Germans completed Operation Alberich which was a strategic withdrawal to the more easily defended Hindenburg Line.
- Fri, 7 December 1917
- The USA declared war on Austria-Hungary.
- Mon, 1 April 1918
- The Royal Air Force (RAF), the world’s first independent air force, was founded by an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.
- Tue, 9 April 1918
- The Germans started an offensive in Flanders, which was initially successful. However, on Mon, 15 July 1918 the
Second Battle of the Marne started. The outcome of this battle was the
collapse of the German armies and it ended on Tue, 6 August 1918 when it brought to an end the last German offensive of the war.
- Wed, 17 July 1918
- RMS Carpathia was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat SM U-55 with the loss of five crew members.
She was sunk off the southern coast of Ireland. Carpathia was famous for rescuing the survivors of RMS Titanic that sank on the 15 April 1912 after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean.
- Thu, 8 August 1918 at 04:20 (4:20am) - Sun, 11 August 1918
- This battle also became known as the “Hundred Days’ Offensive” as 100-days later the war ended. It was probably the first major battle involving armoured warfare and it marked the end of trench warfare.
580 tanks were used comprised of Mark V fighting tanks, Mark V ‘Star’ tanks and Medium Mark A Whippet tanks as well as a number of unarmed tanks used to transport supplies and ammunition forward.
The Fourth Army participated in this battle and it was commanded by General Sir Henry Seymour Rawlinson (1864 - 1925). This army was comprised of British, Australian and Canadian divisions comprising some 75,000 men.
Although the battle only lasted for four days, it marked the beginning of the end of the Great War.
- Mon, 11 November 1918 at 05:10 (5:10am)
- After negotiations, it was agreed that a ceasefire (Armistice) was to come into effect at 11:00 (11:00am).
- Mon, 11 November 1918 at 09:30 (9:30am)
- L/12643 Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers is believed to be the last British casualty of the war. He was buried in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Belgium. Grave Ref. I.B.23.
The grave of Private George Edwin Ellison is near the grave of the first casualty, Private John Parr.
- Mon, 11 November 1918 at 11:00 (11:00am)
- The Armistice came into effect.
- Sat, 28 June 1919
- The signing of this treaty ended the state of war between Germany (as well as the other Central Powers) and the Allied Powers. The negotiations took place in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.
- Sat, 19 July 1919
- This commemoration was held to mark the end of the Great War after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
- Sat, 10 January 1920
- The Treaty of Versailles became effective following its ratification by all the governments concerned.