MAY 1916

MAY 1916


On the 1st May 1916, British summer time was introduced as a “daylight saving” measure. By moving the clock forward by one hour, considerable saving of coal was able to be achieved. Daylight would revert back to Greenwich Mean Time in October.


In Dublin, after the “Easter Rising”, the general feeling was of indignation with the rebels being jeered at and pelted with rotten fruit. Much of the centre of Dublin had been severely damaged and 300 civilians had been killed, with martial law remaining in place. Nearly half of the 3,000 men arrested had been released but of the remainder, 1,800 were imprisoned in Britain and 100 were sentenced to death for treason. The executions began on 3rd May 1916 and continued until the 12th May, by which time 15 rebels had been shot.

The British commander, General Maxwell had refused to listen to anyone, but, public outrage towards the sentences forced the decision to halt further executions.


On the 9th May 1916, Britain and France refined the Sykes-Picot agreement where both countries extend their influence with regard to the partition of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the Great War.


A contract was agreed on the 14th May 1916, where by China would supply 50,000 labourers to the French to serve as non-military personnel. The role of the labourers was tasked to carrying out essential work to support the front line troops. In 1916 China was not a belligerent nation and its people were not allowed to participate in fighting, but as a labour force it allowed the French and later the British to fill their manpower shortage caused by the horrendous casualties of the war.


Austrian troops attacked the Italian mountain positions in the Trentino on the 15th May 1916. This action took the Italians by surprise leading to the Austrians seizing Asiago and Arserio on the 31st May 1916. The Italians withdrew southwards, forcing the Austrian forces to over stretch their supply lines over difficult terrain. The arrival of Italian reinforcements and a successful counter-attack halted the Austrian offensive completely, and the action ended on the 7th June 1916 without a breakthrough.


21st May 1916 saw the implementation of British summer time meaning the clocks went forward one hour allowing the evenings to remain light for longer.


The German forces launched an attack at Vimy Ridge near Arras on 21st May 1916. The British Expeditionary Force had recently taken over from the French. Prior to the offensive German artillery had been shelling the British front line and communication lines. In four hours the Germans had fired 70,000 shells into British lines, and their infantry easily over-ran the British front line, taking many prisoners. A British counter-attack on the 23rd May 1916, with the Germans still controlling the High ground, Vimy Ridge.


Universal conscription was extended on the 25th May 1916. The original Act was introduced by British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in January 1916, specifying that men from 18 to 41 years old were liable to be called up for military service in the army. The exception being married men, widowers with children, naval personnel, ministers of religion and members of reserved occupations.

A second Act was introduced on 25th May 1916, extending military service to married men, but any objectors could apply to a local Military Service Tribunal. This tribunal was in a position to grant exceptions from service.

Due to political considerations the Act did not extend to Ireland, which was then part of the United Kingdom. The Irish employed voluntary recruitment throughout the war.


The Battle of Jutland was the only major naval battle of the war. On the 31st May 1916, the German and British navies finally faced each other off the coast of Jutland in the North Sea. The respective navies were commanded by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer for the German fleet and Admiral Jellicoe for the British fleet The Germans were unaware the British had access to their secret codes and had intercepted the signals detailing the operation. The previous day Jellicoe had sailed the Grand Fleet from Scapa Flow to rendezvous with Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty. Scheer realised his fleet was not in a position to engage the entire British fleet and devised a plan to lure Beatty’s battlecruiser squadron out of Rosyth. Instead of chasing Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s relatively small German force, Beatty’s fleet steamed toward the main German force stationed fifty miles off the coast of Scotland. Sooner than the Germans expected Beatty engaged with Hipper’s small force and was successfully drawn towards the main German fleet, losing two battlecruisers in the engagement. Beatty turned his ships back towards the main British force, with the German fleet in hot pursuit. When the Germans came face to face with the main British fleet, Jellicoe ordered his ships to form a line to fire relentless broadsides at the German vessels. Scheer, concerned he might lose his entire force, ordered his ships to retire. The two sides engaged each other again later that evening, Scheer’s force was able to avoid the British line in the dark. The Germans made their way back to port, despite Jellicoe having positioned some of his ships to cut off the German retreat.

The Battle of Jutland was not a victory for either side, despite the British suffering greater loss of life and ships. German High Seas Fleet never again challenged the Royal Navy and was to remain penned up in its ports for the remainder of the war.

Sixteen year old John (Jack) Travis Cornwall was a Boy First Class sailor on HMS Chester. His duty was to help sight Chester’s forward 5.5” guns. At approximately 5.30pm Chester came under heavy fire and all the forward gun crew except Cornwall were killed. Cornwall stayed by the destroyed gun for 15 minutes, although severely wounded in the chest. HMS Chester retired from the action and Cornwall died in Grimsby General Hospital on 2nd June 1916, and was buried in a pauper’s grave. His body was exhumed and reburied with full military honours, after the story of his actions caught the public interest. Jack Cornwall was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Battle of Jutland.




The Balkans


26/27th May 1916. The German/Bulgarian forces invaded and occupied Fort Rupel, part of neutral Greek territory. The surrender on the 27th May 1916 of Fort Rupel was one of the darkest pages of Greek history.






On the 1st May 1916, Robert Georges Nivelle was appointed as commander of the French Second Army to replace Phillipe Petain. Neville was a very capable commander and organiser of field artillery at regimental and divisional levels. Petain’s defensive policies had saved Verdun from being captured but Nivelle was expected go on the offensive.


The Germans began another attack on the 3rd May 1916 against the west bank of the Meuse. This time the Germans gained the advantage.


On the 6th May 1916 the Germans had gained control of Cote 304, one of the two French hills they had been striving to capture since early March. The Germans had achieved a solid position northwest of Verdun.


End of May 1916. The Germans finally cleared the hills of Le Mort Homme of all French troops, completing the taking of the summit of the hills northwest of Verdun.





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