Why, and with what results, was the First World War not confined to Europe?

Both the Allies and the Central Powers sought to break the deadlock of the Great War by opening up new fronts. Britain and France tried first, with an abortive attempt to invade the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) at Gallipoli in 1915. Germany sought to break the stalemate at sea in 1915 and 1917 by starving Britain out with unrestricted submarine warfare, but the inevitable consequence of sinking merchant shipping on the Atlantic would be the deaths of heretofore neutral Americans and the entry of the U.S. into the war on the side of the Allies. The Germans had one more trick up their sleeves. In 1917, they attempted to foment revolution in Russia.

By 1915, with the war deadlocked in both France and Poland, Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, devised a plan to attack Germany and Austria—the Central Powers—from the south. This would be the Dardanelles Campaign. In the opening days of the war, Germany and Austria were joined by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). For the Ottoman Empire, this meant allies in the fight to hang onto its Middle Eastern Empire against Russian ambitions. From the Allied point of view, the Ottoman Empire was dangerously close to the Suez Canal. As the leader of the Muslim world, the Ottoman Empire’s sultan proclaimed a jihad against the empire’s enemies. But many Arabs hoped that the British and French would free them from Ottoman domination. Churchill’s plan was to open up a third front by sending a British-French naval expedition and amphibious force into the Black Sea. This plan would knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war. It would create a supply line to Russia while taking pressure off the Eastern Front and the Suez Canal.It would enable the Allies to invade Austria and Germany through “Europe’s soft underbelly.” To accomplish all this, the Allies would have to get past the gateway into the Black Sea, the Dardanelles, and, in particular, a series of forts on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Churchill advocated a naval bombardment, beginning early in 1915.But after a number of Allied ships were sunk by mines, Horatio, Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, ordered an amphibious assault on the heights of Gallipoli Peninsula.  Gallipoli was a logistical and executional disaster. The Germans supplied the Turks with machine guns, allowing them to rake the beach with a constant barrage. The Allied supply lines were long and tortuous, stretching all across the Mediterranean.Above all, the Allies had no notion of what would later be called landing craft; nor had they engaged in any amphibious training. Combined Allied casualties came to 250,000 men. The failure of the Gallipoli campaign had wide-ranging effects. There would be no third front, at least not for a while.

Russia continued to face Germany and Austria without British and French help. The Ottoman Empire’s relations with the Central Powers were strengthened. In 1915, while fighting the Russians in Armenia, the Ottoman Empire decided to retaliate against Christian Armenians who fought on Russia’s side. As many as 1.5 million Armenians died of disease or starvation or at the hands of Turkish soldiers. In October 1915, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers in hopes of gaining Balkan territory. The Bulgarians eventually overran the Serbs, cutting Russia off from any help via the Mediterranean. Churchill was made the scapegoat and fell from office. Australians and New Zealanders never forgot that the British sent them into the Gallipoli campaign with such poor preparation.

Both Britain and Germany had long prepared for a great naval battle to settle the mastery of the seas.
Churchill ordered an early mobilisation of the Grand Fleet so that, from the very beginning of the war, German ports were blockaded. But despite superior odds, the British did not want to risk a great fleet action, because they had nothing to gain. This led the Germans to try to starve Britain out via unrestricted submarine warfare. Britain, an archipelago, was, in 1914, heavily dependent on shipments of food, fuel, and munitions from America and the empire. The United States, though technically and militarily neutral, was happy to supply both sides. Yet with the British blockade preventing trade with Germany, American firms traded ever greater amounts of goods and loaned ever greater amounts of money to the Allies, especially Britain. This Atlantic trade became the crucial lifeline that kept Britain in the war. By the same token, the Germans could win if they could cut Britain’s lifeline. At first, the Germans tried to cut American supplies with surface raiders, but these were too easy for the Royal Navy to hunt down. Submarines or U-boats were far more effective. Early in the war, the German U-boat commanders tried to minimize loss of life by warning their victims to abandon ship. This warning gave the crew time to radio the Royal Navy and sink the U-boat. In the spring of 1915, the German Admiralty announced a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. All ships traveling in an area around Britain were subject to sinking. On 15 May 1915, the U-20 sighted and sank the British luxury liner R.M.S. Lusitania off the coast of Ireland. Of the passengers and crew, 1,198 died, including 128 American citizens. The Germans claimed—correctly, as it turned out—that the Lusitania was carrying war materiel. Many Americans called for America to join the war. Reluctant to add the American industrial giant to its list of enemies, the Germans revoked their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare. As a result, Germany’s U-boat offensive stalled, and Britain continued to be supplied from America. This led the Germans to attempt another surface-ship action.

 On 31 May 1916, the British and German fleets met while out on patrol off the Jutland Peninsula, Denmark. Involving 250 ships and 100,000 men, Jutland was the largest naval battle in history up to that time. At first, everything went according to the German plan. The German battlecruisers lured those of the British into battle and, in quick succession, dispatched three ships. But instead of the Germans trapping the small British squadron, the main German battlefleet was drawn into the range of the whole British Grand Fleet. Moreover, the British commander, Sir John Jellicoe, had crossed the German Admiral Reinhard Scheer’s T: He was facing the German Fleet broadsides to bows. At this point, knowing that he was outnumbered and just minutes from destruction, Scheer ordered his destroyers and torpedo boats to run interference against the combined firepower of the Royal Navy, while the High Seas Fleet retreated behind a smokescreen. Instead of giving chase, Admiral Jellicoe turned his ships away from the German torpedoes, thus allowing the High Seas Fleet to escape Both commanders seem to have felt that, in the end, their primary mission was not so much to engage and defeat the enemy as to bring their expensive battlewagons back intact. Though the Germans claimed victory, the kaiser’s High Seas Fleet spent most of the rest of the war in harbour. Thanks to the British blockade, the German situation grew desperate by early 1917. Germany was carrying a number of weaker allies, including the Austrians and the Turks. Further, in 1916, Arab peoples began a revolt against the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled them for centuries. The British finally had their third front.

Lawrence of Arabia organised and led the Arabs. They entered Damascus in triumph—ahead of the British—in 1918. To open this third front, Lawrence had promised the Arab peoples national self-determination— independence—after the war. But in Palestine, this would conflict with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a British promise to support a national homeland for the Jews. Here, as in so many other places, World War I set the course for the rest of the century. The German army was being worn down by superior numbers in the East and West. At home, Germany was running out of fuel oil and food stuffs. Something had to be done quickly or Germany would lose the war. Early in 1917, the German government decided on two terrific gambles. First, the German Admiralty reinstated unrestricted submarine warfare. They knew that, sooner or later, an American ship would be sunk, and American lives would be lost. They gambled that they could sink enough ships to starve Britain out before the Americans declared war. On February 3, the United States broke diplomatic relations with Germany after the sinking of an American ship, the S.S. Housatonic This strategy almost worked. By April 1917, the U-boats were sinking 600,000 tons of shipping per month. British domestic food stocks were down to six weeks. But then, two things happened:
i) In April 1917, America entered the war, partly because German U-boats had attacked American ships. In addition, the Americans learned via the Zimmerman telegram that Germany had offered Mexico the prizes of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas if it joined in a war against the United States.
ii)  In May, the British and American navies implemented a convoy system, and U-boat losses began to rise. The U.S. Army—inexperienced but fresh—was gearing up to join the fray.

The war in Russia before the Americans mobilised, perhaps he could concentrate all his resources on breaking open the Western Front. The Russian strategy in World War I was the same as against Napoleon: Give ground, retreat into the vast expanses of Mother Russia, and wait for the German and Austrian armies to freeze or burn themselves out. Because of the backwardness of Russian industry, though, many of the Russian troops had no rifles, bullets, uniforms, or food. Luckily for Russia, the Germans concentrated on the Western Front, but in the spring of 1915, the Germans launched a successful offensive in southern Poland. Stymied in Poland, in 1916 the Russians launched an offensive against Austria. The Austrians were weakened because they had had to divert troops to the Italian frontier in the south. The Russians broke through and gained 60 miles, but their offensive stalled when the Russian railway system was unable to bring more troops up to the front. Still, this offensive diverted German troops away from Verdun. With both sides so evenly matched, World War I was a zero-sum game. Troops massed for a decisive offensive on one front meant that their army would be too weak to maintain another front. The only way to break the deadlock would be to bring in a big ally, such as the United States, or eliminate one, such as Russia. This would be the next German strategy. By 1917, the Russian war effort was in chaos.  In that year, more than a million men deserted. Civilians at home suffered food shortages, workers went on strike, and peasants began to seize the holdings of their landlords.  In March 1917 (February by the Russian calendar), a series of street demonstrations broke out in Petrograd. Regular troops refused to fire on the starving demonstrators.  Revolt spread through the countryside, and mutiny, through the army. On 12 March, Russia’s legislature, the Duma, established a provisional government. On 15 March, Czar Nicholas II abdicated.  From this point, real power rested with the defence minister, Alexander Kerensky. He was a moderate democrat who passed a series of reforms. He fatally, though, decided to continue the war. 
The position of the Kerensky government worsened daily as it and the war grew more and more
unpopular. Russia was ripe for a more violent revolution. Germany was only too happy to help by putting the exiled Vladimir Lenin on a train for Russia.

Supplementary Reading:
Chambers, chapter 27, section II. A. Moorehead, Gallipoli. R. K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.

Questions to Consider:
1. If Churchill’s southern Europe strategy had succeeded, how would it have changed the course of 20th-century history?
2. Why was the British blockade of Germany more successful than the German blockade of Britain?