WWI: How the war unfolded

WWI: How the war unfolded

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to the ABC for the use of their:

ABC World War I Centenary time line – sourced from http://www.abc.net.au/news/first-world-war-centenary/timeline/ (Full version may be found here.)

Sarajevo v2

Imperial War Museum
The Archduke Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo in June 1914 shortly before their assassination by Gavrilo Princip

June 28, 1914 It starts with a gun shot

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, are assassinated by pro-Serb nationalist student Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

July 28, 1914 A chain reaction

Austria-Hungary, backed by its ally Germany, declares war on Serbia. Russia mobilises two days later to aid its Serbian ally setting off a chain reaction among European powers bound by a web of military alliances.

July 31, 1914 Australia prepares to join the war

Labor leader Andrew Fisher declares Australians will defend Britain “to our last man and our last shilling” in bi-lateral support of Joseph Cook’s government

August 1, 1914 Germany declares war

Germany declares war on Russia on 1 August, France on 3 August and invades neutral Belgium on 4 August.

August 4, 1914 The Allies stand together

Britain declares war on Germany and joins France and Russia in a group known as the Allies

August 10, 1914 Volunteer recruiting begins

At the outbreak of war, Australia pledged a force of 20,000 to be placed at Britain’s disposal. The army set strict physical and medical conditions for enlistment. By the end of 1914 more than 50,000 had joined up. Thousands more were rejected on medical grounds.

August 23, 1914 The Battle of Mons  

The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) engages the Germans at Mons. It is the first British troop action of the war. The BEF is forced to retreat the following day as the Germans push on towards Paris.

August 26, 1914 First known Australian killed in action

Lieutenant William Malcolm Chisholm from Sydney, serving with Britain’s 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, is wounded in the Battle of Le Cateau, France during the retreat from Mons and dies the following day.

September 11 – 17, 1914 Australian troops capture German New Guinea

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) seizes the German wireless station at Bita Paka near Rabaul. Captain Brian Pockley and Able Seaman William Williams are the first fatalities among the Australian military forces. AN&MEF troops occupy Rabaul on 12 September and Germany surrenders New Guinea on 17 September.

September 14, 1914 Loss of first Australian submarine

AE1, with her sister submarine AE2, took part in the operations to occupy German New Guinea. On 14 September, during a routine patrol off the coast of Rabaul, AE1 vanishes with her entire crew of three officers and 32 sailors.

November 1, 1914 Australian troops depart

The First Division of the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force departs Albany, Western Australia, initially bound for Europe

November 2 – 14, 1914 The Central Powers combine

Turkey (The Ottoman Empire) enters the war, after a naval bombardment of Russian Black Sea ports, with Austria-Hungary and Germany in a group known as the Central Powers.

November 9, 1914 HMAS Sydney destroys German Raider SMS Emden

HMAS Sydney, one of the naval escorts for the first convoy, breaks away and engages the German raider Emden off the Cocos Islands forcing it to run aground. The action neutralises a major threat to the Australian-New Zealand troop convoy crossing the Indian Ocean.

December 3, 1914 Australians and New Zealanders disembark in Egypt

Australian and New Zealand troops arrive in Egypt and set up camp near the pyramids outside Cairo. They were diverted from Europe due to concerns for the security of the Suez Canal and the Middle East after the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war. There was also a shortage of accommodation and training space in Britain

January 3, 1915 Aussies and Kiwis become ANZACs

The ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is formed in Egypt. The acronym was created by a military clerk

March 18, 1915 Dardanelles naval failure

After previous attempts to destroy Ottoman defences on the Dardanelles, the British and French Naval squadron tries to force a passage through the Strait. The attack fails and six ships are lost. The failure leads to Allied plans for an army to land on the Gallipoli Peninsula to take the forts and allow passage for the naval force to reach Constantinople (Istanbul).

April 25, 1915 The Gallipoli campaign

Allied troops of Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France attempt landings on the Gallipoli Peninsula adjacent to the Dardanelles but are driven back by the Ottomans. The nine-month Gallipoli Campaign begins in which the Allies have 180,000 men either killed or wounded.


Australian War Memorial
Victoria Cross recipient Albert Jacka

May 19, 1915 Australia’s first VC

Lance Corporal Albert Jacka, 14th Battalion AIF, becomes the first Australian to win the Victoria Cross in WWI for his actions at Gallipoli.

August 6 – 10, 1915 The August Offensives

The Allies launch a new offensive in August hoping to break the Gallipoli stalemate. The Anzacs play a crucial role leading diversionary attacks at Lone Pine and the Nek in the hope of drawing Turkish reinforcements away from the main attack onto the high ground at Hill 971, the original objective of 25 April. The Allies lose Chunuk Bair on 10 August and the defeat prompts considerations of an evacuation.


August 6, 1915 Battle of Lone Pine

The 1st Anzac Brigade successfully captures Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. They will spend the next three days defending it against repeated counter attacks. There are heavy losses on both sides with approximately 3,000 Australian and 7,000 Turkish casualties. Seven Victoria Crosses are awarded to Australians.

August 7, 1915 Charge at the Nek

The 8th and 10th Australian Light Horse regiments launch a tragic and futile attack on the Turkish trenches at the Nek on the morning of 7 August. After the initial wave is cut down by Turkish machine-gun and rifle fire, three more waves are ordered to charge, all suffering a similar fate. The attack fails with 234 killed and 140 wounded.

October 27, 1915 Hughes becomes PM

William “Billy” Hughes becomes Australia’s Prime Minister. He will stay in office until 1923 and strongly advocate conscription. Hughes played a key role in post-war peace agreements.

December 18 – 20, 1915 ANZAC troops evacuate

The ANZAC evacuation from Gallipoli begins. It is the most successful operation of the whole campaign with only two men slightly injured. The eight-month campaign saw enormous loss of life with 8,700 Australians killed and 18,000 injured. The ANZAC evacuation becomes a model for the British withdrawal on 9 January 1916 bringing the campaign to a close.

January 27, 1916 Conscription in Britain

More than 2 million men join the British Army between August 1914 and December 1915. But mounting casualties result in declining recruitment numbers. The government introduces conscription in Great Britain with the Military Service Act in January 1916 targetting single men aged between 18 and 41. Within a few months, World War I conscription is rolled out for married men.

February 21, 1916 — December 15, 1916 Battle for Verdun

The French defence of the strategically important Verdun fortress against massive German attacks becomes a crucial focus of the war. Australian troops play an important role in later battles further north to draw away German reinforcements from Verdun. German troops withdraw from Verdun on 15 December 1916. French and German casualties amount to almost 1 million men.

April 7, 1916 Troops gather at Armentieres

Australian soldiers take up positions on the Western Front at Armentieres, France.

April 25, 1916 First ANZAC Day commemoration

The 25th of April is officially named ANZAC Day in 1916. It is marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia, a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt.

June 4, 1916 — September 20, 1916 The Eastern Front

The Russians, under General Brusilov, begin a massive offensive on the Eastern Front against Austrian forces in response to Allied requests for action to divert the Central Powers’ attention from the Western Front. On September 20 the Russians are forced to withdraw. The failed offensive has cost them 1 million men.

July 1, 1916 The Battle of the Somme begins

The first day of the Battle of the Somme is the single most costly 24 hours in the history of the British army. It was hoped engaging the German army on the Somme would relieve pressure on the French army at Verdun. Of the 55,000 British and French casualties, a third are listed as killed in action.

July 19, 1916 — July 20, 1916 Battle of Fromelles

The Australian 5th Division, alongside the British 61st Division, launches an attack at Fromelles in the hope of preventing the Germans from transferring reserves to the Somme. It is a disastrous event in Anzac history. More than 2,000 Australian soldiers are killed and 2,500 wounded in less than 24 hours.

July 23, 1916 — September 3, 1916 Battle of Pozières

Australians are called into the line at the Battle of the Somme at Pozières and Mouquet Farm. Australian divisions suffer heavy casualties taking Pozières Ridge but ultimately fail to achieve their objectives at Mouquet Farm. The massive losses at Fromelles, Pozières and Mouquet Farm hamper Australia’s voluntary recruitment process and contribute to the failure of a referendum to bring in conscription.

August 4 – 5, 1916 Battle of Romani

The Anzac Mounted Division fights its first major action at Romani, Egypt, after several months patrolling east of the Suez Canal. Anzac and British mounted troops halt the Turkish advance and force them to withdraw. The action puts a stop to the Turkish threat to the Suez Canal.

October 28, 1916 Australians strike down conscription

After heavy casualties on the Western Front, Britain pressures Australia to make a bigger contribution to the war effort. In 1916 Prime Minister Billy Hughes visits Britain and the front. He returns to Australia convinced conscription must be introduced to win the war. Despite opposition from his own Labor Party, Hughes takes the issue to a referendum. It is narrowly defeated with 49 per cent for and 51 per cent against.

November 18, 1916 The Somme campaign ends

Amid the harshest winter in 40 years, Australian troops attack positions around Flers and Gueudecourt as part of the final month of the Somme campaign. By the end of the Battle of the Somme, the Allies have advanced only a few kilometres. The British suffered around 420,000 casualties, the French 200,000 and the Germans around 500,000.

April 6, 1917 United States enters the war

US president Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany after Germany breaks the agreement on halting submarine attacks on civilian ships in the English Channel. The first American troops land in France on 25 June 1917 but it will take at least 12 months before their numbers have an impact on the war.

April 11, 1917 First Battle of Bullecourt

Australian and British troops attack the German frontline near the village of Bullecourt in northern France. The attack is poorly planned and is a disaster. Despite initially breaking through the German defences, the Australians are forced to retreat. The battle costs Australia more than 3,000 casualties, including more than 1,100 taken prisoner. It is the largest capture of Australian troops on the Western Front.

May 3 – 17, 1917 Second Battle of Bullecourt

Australian troops again attack the German frontline at Bullecourt on 3 May 1917 capturing enemy positions. Alongside the British, they fight off several counter attacks over the next fortnight, and force the Germans to withdraw from Bullecourt altogether. It is a costly victory with approximately 7,400 Australian casualties.

June 7 – 14, 1917 Battle of Messines

In an early morning surprise attack, Australian and British troops attack German defences near Messines, Belgium. Allied tunnellers had worked for two years to place mines under the German positions. During the attack the Allies detonate 19 mines and hundreds of tons of explosives. 10,000 Germans are killed instantly when the tremendous explosion destroys the German-held ridge.

July 31, 1917 — November 10, 1917 Third Battle of Ypres

The British planned a major offensive to break the German defences at Ypres and sweep through to submarine bases on the Belgian coast. Contingents from the Anzac force are called forward during the second phase of the battle to add weight to the British 2nd Army. The Australians make a series of successful advances at the Battle of Menin Road on 20 September, the Battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September and the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October, although casualties are heavy. The Australian attack at the village of Passchendaele on 12 October fails with heavy losses. The Canadian Corps eventually succeeds in capturing Passchendaele on 10 November bringing the Third Battle of Ypres to an end. More than 38,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the Ypres battles.


October 31, 1917 Battle of Beersheba, the fall of Gaza and Jerusalem

The 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade charges the Turkish trenches at the strategic town of Beersheba. With only bayonets in their hands – used as makeshift swords – the light horsemen overrun the Turks in less than an hour. Many Turkish officers are captured and the operation is a turning point in the Middle East theatre of war. The fall of Beersheba enables British Empire forces to break the Ottoman line near Gaza on 7 November and advance into Palestine taking Jerusalem on 9 December 1917.

December 20, 1917 Second conscription referendum defeated

Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who broke away from the Labor Party and formed the Nationalist Party following the first failed conscription referendum in 1916, called a second referendum on conscription. The vote sparked strong debate and public division. It is again defeated – this time by a slightly larger margin.

March 3, 1918 Russian-German peace treaty

Soviet Russia signs a treaty with Germany formally ending its participation in the war. Harsh terms imposed by the Germans force the Russians to yield a quarter of their pre-war territory and more than half of Russia’s industries. The surrender of Russian forces allows Germany to send large numbers of troops to the Western Front


Appreciation extended to the ABC for the use of their Timeline of WWI. This is an extract only. To see the full unedited version please see: http://www.abc.net.au/news/first-world-war-centenary/timeline/


Enlist now to march in the Kangaroo March Re-enactment.