1/1/1916 Prospects for the New Year: an escalation of horror

All sides face into 1916 hoping that it will see a victorious end to this terrible war. The last year has generally been a good one for the Central Powers and a bad one for the Allies. Germany has successfully parried British and French attacks on the Western Front. In the East the Germans have inflicted crushing defeats on the Russians, driving them out of Poland, possibly forever. As well as recovering its territories lost to Russia in 1914, the Austro-Hungarians have finally seen Serbia over-run and devastated, a somewhat extreme punishment for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It must rankle with the Austro-Hungarians however that these victories have been won thanks to assistance from the Germans.

Turkey had a bad start to 1915, suffering a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Sarikamish in the Caucasus.Their focus on the Eastern Front meant that the Russians were unable to exploit the victory but it nevertheless triggered a genocidal rage against Anatolia’s Armenians by the Turkish authorities; the Armenians are seen by the Turkish leadership as disloyal to the Ottoman Empire. A Turkish attempt to invade Egypt was also singularly unsuccessful.

Turkey’s situation improved since then. The Turks faced the main efforts of the British Empire at Gallipoli and they won, albeit at terrible cost. They have also repulsed a British drive on Baghdad and now have a British army under siege at Kut-al-Amara.

Yet there are some clouds on the horizon for the Central Powers. Their enemies dwarf them in terms of population and economic power; if the war continues indefinitely they will surely be swamped. Thanks to Britain’s naval blockade Germany and Austria-Hungary are increasingly suffering from shortages of food and other commodities (indeed, riots in Austria-Hungary have just forced a reduction in the price of bread). The Central Powers need the war brought to an end soon. Germany’s Falkenhayn is planning an offensive to knock France out of the war and thereby force Britain to accept peace. Austria-Hungary’s Conrad is separately planning an offensive to eliminate Italy.

The Allies also want to secure victory this year. They have decided to launch simultaneous summer offensives on all fronts to overwhelm the enemy. For Britain and France, the main effort will be on the Western Front, most likely at the junction of their armies in the Somme river valley.

With both sides planning great offensives, it is most likely that 1916 will see bloodshed on a previously unimagined scale. Only time can tell whether it will also see the war’s end.

image source:

Skull, by Otto Dix (Guardian)

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