The Great War (5 DVDs - 250 mins) documents the first world wide conflict; from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the armistice on 11th November, 1918. In between, millions perished at Ypres, Verdun, the Somme and globally. It saw the introduction of the tank, the airplane, submarine warfare and the use of poison gas; and on the home front the Women`s Army Auxiliary Corps and the first air raids. Each DVD covers a year from the war.
The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist and the Austria-Hungary war on Serbia were the catalysts that led to World War I. Resulting in over 16 million dead and 20 million wounded it is one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.
After Germany invaded neutral Belgium in August, Britain declared war on Germany as they had previously promised to protect Belgium and the thought of German troops across the channel was too close for comfort. Along with French troops, they were successful in achieving their objectives at the Battle of Mons in August and the Battle of the Marne in September. Deep trenches were dug all along northern France and the Swiss border, which along with the machine gun and the `race to the sea` meant that it was easier to defend than to attack so within months of starting the war was beginning to stagnate.
When Japan joined the allies and the Ottoman Empire joined the central powers it truly became a `World War` and the situation was only aggravated by competing power-blocs in Africa and South America. While it was definitely a World War, the war in Europe and the Battle of Ypres (October) was the main focus of the conflict. This was the first continental war that had not been confined to land due to the arms race focused on the building the most up to date battleships and by December the German fleet were regularly bombing the English coast.
Many of the European population believed that the war would `be over by Christmas`, but as 1915 went on it became increasingly clear that the war was going to be a long drawn out affair.
The stalemate on the Western Front continued and new warfare techniques were used. Poison gas was used for the first time by the Central Powers at the second Battle of Ypres in April but all that achieved was the killing of more men - both from the Allies and Central Powers. This however left the gloves off for the nations with the ability to manufacture poison gas. They could use it but lay the blame firmly at the door of the Germans who had used it first. In the east, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, while Italy changed sides to fight for the Allies.
Britain used their superior naval fleet to blockade German ports causing shortages which led to food riots in many German towns. In May the Germans sunk the `Lusitania`, a luxury passenger liner bound for the USA, off the south coast of Ireland drowning nearly 1200 civilians including 100 Americans. The German fleet withdrew to port fearful of the Americans joining the Allies.
At the end of May London witnessed their first attack from the air as German Zeppelin Airships killed nearly 2000 civilians in air raids and by October women were being recruited to do traditional `men`s work`.
By 1916 it looked like warfare on all fronts was grinding to a halt so the British decided that the solution to the problem was to create a mass popular army. Previous pleas had raised over a million volunteers but in February conscription began for men aged between 18 and 41.
The Germans decided that the solution to the stalemate was to undertake a huge offensive at Verdun in February. Their intention was a war of attrition which would `bleed France white`. To try and relieve the pressure on the front at Verdun the British and French undertook a push at the Somme and on the first day of the battle (1st July) 20,000 Britons were killed and a further 40,000 injured.
At sea both the British and German High Seas fleet continued to endeavour for victory. The one nearly decisive sea battle took place in the North Sea at Jutland in May. The Germans initially caused considerable damage to their British enemies however meeting the British Grand Fleet caught them at a disadvantage. While the British lost more ships and men in battle the German fleet was very heavily damaged and had to spend most of the rest of the war in its own ports effectively giving Britain control of the seas.
The year 1917 saw great changes in the course of the war. Major German successes in the east contributed to two revolutions in Russia which meant that German forces could concentrate more fully on the Western Front. However in April the USA declared war on Germany meaning new ships, troops, supplies and weapons to help the allies.
Outside Europe Allied forces were increasingly in control. By mid-1917 British forces were once again in control of Baghdad and Jerusalem at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. At sea submarine warfare was intensified. British food reserves ran dangerously low which led to the use of rationing of meat, butter, lard, margarine and sugar as well as supply ships travelling in groups with military escorts.
1917 was also a year that signalled the beginning of social change as developments on the home front led to the formation of the Women`s Army Auxiliary Corps. This led to women being placed into the heat of warfare in a military sense for the first time.
In April The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service combined to form the Royal Air Force (RAF). British anti-German feeling had increased as the war had gone on and on 17th June the British royal family changed their surname to Windsor to appear more British.
German forces released from the Eastern Front launched a major offensive on the Western Front in spring 1918 but despite some minor initial successes by July the Germans had failed to break the Allied lines. Allied counter-offensives at the Marne and at Amiens in August were successful pushing the Germans back past the Hindenburg line and freeing much of occupied France and Belgium.
On 11th November at 11am an armistice between the Allied forces and Germany was signed. Though the fighting stopped millions of young men were dead - 947,000 of them from the British Empire.