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Document packs - in depth studies Spotlights on history - issues from the war Battles - 5 case studies People - 6 individual histories
First World War home page The First World War, 1914 - 1918
Origins of the conflict
Over by Christmas
Britain and the outbreak of the war
German ascendancy
Stalemate and change : the war 1916 -18
Final stages of the war
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German ascendancy, 1915

The first full year of the war was marked by the ascendancy of Germany and its allies in many of the rapidly multiplying arenas of conflict.

The Anglo-French naval attempt to end the stalemate on the Western Front and to eliminate Turkey from the war by forcing the Glossary - opens new windowDardanelles in March 1915 quickly ran into trouble. At the end of April, Allied forces landed at Glossary - opens new windowGallipoli and began an arduous struggle to remove the Turks from the peninsula.

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Italy and Bulgaria enter the war
Elsewhere in Europe, the situation seemed equally unpromising. After protracted negotiations, the entry of Italy into the war against the Central Powers on 23 May 1915 yielded little success. German forces drove the beleaguered Russians out of Poland and occupied Warsaw on 5 August. Encouraged by the fighting strength of the Turks and the Germans, Bulgaria declared war on the Entente in September 1915, a development that allowed the Central Powers to over-run and occupy Serbia by the end of the year.
Italy joins the war - opens new window
Italy joins the war

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First use of poison gas

On the Western Front, stalemate endured. The first large-scale use of Glossary - opens new windowpoison gas in the conflict - by German forces against French and Canadian divisions at the 2nd Battle of Glossary - opens new windowYpres in April 1915 - did not bring the anticipated breakthrough. In France and Russia, both of which had already suffered horrendous losses, voices were questioning the extent of Britain's military commitment to the Allied cause.

Partly to counter such sentiments, and partly to relieve Russia's military woes in the east, British and French forces launched a major new offensive on the Western Front in September 1915. At the Battle of Glossary - opens new windowLoos (25 September-8 October), however, British troops were decimated by German machine-gun fire and suffered heavy losses. About 60,000 men were killed, wounded or captured - in contrast to only 20,000 German casualties.


Battle of Loos - opens new window
Battle of Loos (195k)
Civilian deaths

Such horrific death tolls were not confined to the battlefield. Thousands of Serbian soldiers and civilians died on their retreat to Corfu in the autumn, as did many of the Austrian prisoners of war who accompanied them. Causes of death included typhus, tuberculosis and starvation.

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Meanwhile, the greatest humanitarian tragedy of the war was unfolding in the Ottoman province of Glossary - opens new windowArmenia, where Turkish troops - angered by alleged Armenian complicity in Russian advances in the region - murdered or deported hundreds of thousands of members of the local population. The Spotlights on historyArmenian massacres were the first and only genocide of the First World War. Despite international protests, as many as one million Armenians were dead by September 1915.

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Further research

The following references give an idea of the sources held by The National Archives on the subject of this chapter. These documents can be seen on site at The National Archives.

CN 4/4:
Photographs of victims of a German gas attack, 1915.
FO 371/2374-2380:
Italy and the war, 1915.
PRO 30/57/50:
Sir John French to Kitchener on the first use of gas by the Germans on the Western Front, Apr 1915.
PRO 30/57/51:
Report (with maps and a photograph) on the Battle of Loos, Sep 1915.
WO 32/5169:
Report on a German gas attack, 23-24 May 1915.
WO 158/32, 261:
Reports by the 24th Division on the Battle of Loos, Oct 1915.

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