The Western Front
The German Imperial Navy begins its extended Submarine campaign on the 1st March 1916. Permission was granted to attack armed merchant ships during February 1916.
On the 5th March 1916 the Allies began their advance on Kilimanjaro in German East Africa. The Allied Commander, South Africa’s General Jan Smuts, was un-able to entrap the highly mobile German forces under the command of General Lettow-Vorbeck. The Germans used these guerrilla tactics in Africa until the end of the war in 1918.
On the 6th March 1916 the Women’s Land Service Corporation was formed in Britain. In addition to aiding agricultural production, it enabled more men to be conscripted for military service.
On the 9th March 1916, Germany declared war on Portugal, who had joined the allies in part to defend and to extend its African empire.
A military conference was held by the allies on the 12th March 1916, at Chantilly in France (The Chantilly Conference) to discuss a summer offensive to counter the German attack on Verdun.
Chief of Staff of Navy High Command, Admiral von Tirpitz resigns on the 14th March 1916. Kaiser Wilhelm was unwilling to allow the full use of German sea power, von Tirpitz protested and finally resigned his command.
Austria/Hungary declared war against Portugal on 15th March 1916 following Germany’s declaration of war against Portugal.
On 21st March 1916, allied action of Kahe (East Africa) brings the Kilimanjaro operations to an end, with the German forces retreating.
On the 24th March 1916, the British passenger liner S.S. Sussex was torpedoed by submarine UB-29 in the English Channel. The Sussex manged to limp onwards and be towed into Boulogne. There were 25 American civilian casualties on board, out of a total of 80 casualties, of whom there were 50 fatalities.
Edward Noel Mellish was a 33-year-old assistant curate at St. Paul’s church in Deptford. Offering his services as a Chaplin, he became Captain the Reverend Mellish, Army Chaplains Department. In 1916 Reverend Mellish was attached to the 4th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, serving in the Ypres Salient. On the 27th March 1916, Mellish was involved in the attack at the St. Eloi craters. Several enormous mines had been exploded under the German trenches and the British attacked and secured the position. During heavy fighting, Mellish repeatedly went backwards and forwards between the British and captured German trenches, to tend and rescue wounded men. He brought to safety ten badly wounded men from ground swept by machine-gun fire. The 4th Battalion was relieved on the second day of the battle, but Mellish again went into no-mans land and brought in twelve more wounded men. On the third night he led a party of volunteers into the trenches and rescued the remaining wounded men. For this action Mellish was awarded the Victoria Cross and was the first clergyman to be awarded the V.C. in the Great War.
On the 30th March 1916, The Russian Hospital Ship Portugal was struck by a torpedo from the German U-boat U33. The Portugal was a French built ship and requisitioned by the Russians for a hospital ship in the Black Sea. The Portugal was towing a string of small flat-bottomed boats to ferry wounded troops from the shore to the ship. Off Rizeh, on the Turkish coast of the Black Sea, she had stopped as one of the small boats was sinking and repairs needed to be made. The ship was not carrying any wounded personnel at the time, but had a staff of Red Cross physicians and nurses on board, as well as her normal crew.
The ship’s crew saw a periscope approaching the vessel but as the ship was a hospital ship and protected by The Hague conventions no evasive action was taken. Without warning the submarine fired a torpedo which missed. The U-boat came round again and fired a torpedo from a distance of 30 feet, which hit near the engine room, breaking the ship in half.
On the 31st March 1915, German Zeppelin L15 commanded by Kapitanleutnent Joachim Breithaupt, was hit by anti-aircraft guns from Purfleet ranges in the Thames estuary. Although high enough to avoid fighter attacks the Zeppelin was vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. L15 had four of its gas filled cells destroyed and gradually lost height before crashing into the sea near Margate in Kent. One crew member died and the remainder survived the crash. Presumably the survivors were taken prisoners of war.
America had protested strongly that German U-boat attacks on allied shipping had caused American civilian deaths. The German foreign minister, Dr. Arthur Zimmermann, vowed that should America enter the war, Germany would encourage Mexico to reconquer her lost territories of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Germany would offer Mexico generous financial terms.
A message was forwarded to the German minister in Mexico, but was intercepted by the British Admiralty intelligence, deciphered and passed on to the American President Woodrow Wilson.
On the 31st March 1916, General John J. Pershing, future US commander in Europe, defeated the Mexican troops of General Pancho Villa. Pershing retaliated after a raid by Villa into New Mexico, during which 18 Americans were killed.
On 6th March 1916, the Germans renewed their Verdun offensive, this time attacking along the west bank of the Meuse River. Their target was two strategic hills northwest of Verdun that formed the main French position. However, by the end of March, the heavily defended hills were still only partially in the German hands.
The devastated village of Vaux was taken by the Germans on the 31st March 1916. The village had changed hands 13 times during the month of March.
The Eastern Front
On the 18th March 1916, the Lake Naroch Offensive (128km/80miles NW of Minsk in the present day Republic of Belarus) was launched at the request of the French in an attempt to relieve the pressure on Verdun. It was hoped the Germans would transfer more units to the East to counter the Russian offensive. Czar Nicholas II agreed to the French request, and chose Lake Naroch as the Imperial Russian Army had a significant superiority over the German forces, commanded by General Hermann von Eichhorn. The initial Russian artillery bombardment lasted two days but was inaccurate, leaving the German artillery intact. When the attacks were conducted the Russians made the mistake of crossing no-man’s land in groups rather than in scattered advance giving the German machine guns easy targets. The Russians greatly outnumbered the German forces and gained 10 kilometres but did not inflict any serious damage to the well organised and fortified German defences. The territory gained by the Russians was lost to subsequent German counterattack.
On the 21st March 1916, a secondary attack near Riga (Russian/Polish border) had no better luck than the Lake Naroch Offensive.
General Alexei Evert, the Russian Commander, called a halt to the attack on the 30th March 1916. The Lake Naroch Offensive had turned out to be an utter failure. Fading Russian morale, due to continuous waves of troops attacking over the same ground with the same catastrophic results and had not been of any assistance to the French at Verdun. Also the warm weather and abundant rains had turned much of the area into swamps.
The Caucasus and the Middle East
On the 18th March 1916, Russia launched an offensive against the Germans East of Vilna (Russian/Polish border). The attempt to recapture the important railhead and major road networks was at the request of the French to divert German troops away from Verdun. Limited gains were attained at the cost of heavy casualties.
On the 19th March 1916, General Sir Archibald Murray was appointed commander of Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in Egypt. With additional resources of men and equipment and by stages, the mission of the EEF evolved from a defensive position of Egypt to an invasion of Palestine
First, the Sinai Desert, with its sand storms and searing temperatures, had to be crossed, a test of endurance as well as of engineering for the troops involved. Access to water dictated what could be achieved. Tens of thousands of camels and drivers were required to supply the thirsty soldiers, while a pipeline for water and the railway system were extended to the borders of Palestine.