The Western Front
The two day Battle of Jutland, in the North Sea, ended on 1st June 1916, after the main British fleet had engaged the German fleet off the west coast of Scotland. The Germans realised they were in danger of losing their entire force, and were forced to retire. The two fleets engaged again later in the evening, but the German’s managed to avoid the opposing ships and under cover of the dark, returned to their secure ports.
Morally the Germans were victorious for they had inflicted greater casualties and sank more ships. Upon arrival at their home ports the German navy remained penned up for the remainder of the war. The British claimed a victory as the Royal Navy was still in command of the seas.
The battle of Jutland was the last of four major naval battles of the Great War. The first being the engagement, on the 14th October 1914 at Coronel, off the west coast of Chile. The Germans were victorious.
The second engagement was on the 8th December 1914, at the Falklands, where the British fleet sank the German fleet with the exception of one light cruiser which had managed to slip away.
The third engagement was at Dogger Bank, in the North Sea, on the 24th January 1915. Five British battle cruisers engaged three German battle cruisers. The British sank one vessel and damaged the German flagship, but the Germans succeeded in damaging the British flagship before retreating. The battle was inconclusive owing to British abandoning the action allowing the German fleet to escape.
Three divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were involved in the defence of the high ground south-east of Ypres. The ridge at Zillebeke was known by the British army as Mount Sorrel. It included the double summits of Hill 61 & Hill 62, Sanctuary Wood.
The battle of Mount Sorrel began on 2nd June 1916 when the German forces attacked with an artillery barrage which blew the Allied trenches apart. The 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles were nearly wiped out, suffering 89 per cent casualties either killed or injured.
German infantry swarmed across no-man’s land and captured Mount Sorrel ridge along with the near-by peaks of Hill 61 & Hill 62, together with the village of Hooge. The Germans attacked on three sides and were well positioned to attack the city of Ypres.
The Canadians tried to retake the hills on 3rd June 1916 but were repelled by the German defenders. Adequate troops and sufficient supplies were unavailable as the allies were planning the Somme Offensive.
The British Secretary of State for War, Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener, was drowned on the 5th June 1916, when HMS Hampshire sank off the west of the Scottish Orkney Islands. Kitchener had sailed on a diplomatic mission to Russia but the Hampshire struck a German mine during a Force 9 gale and rapidly sank in the icy waters.
Kitchener was one of the few people who anticipated the war would last at least three years. It was his decision to create a mass volunteer army to boost the regular army. Consequently, his pointing finger and face on recruitment posters stating “Your country Needs You” summoned many men to arms and would be known as “Kitchener’s army”.
Lieutenant General Sir Julian Byng, commanding the allied forces attacked the dug-in German hilltop position with artillery, on the 9th June 1916. An Allied infantry attack on the 14th June 1916 recaptured Mount Sorrel.
Less than three weeks after the Battle for Mount Sorrel, Allied forces launched the Battle of the Somme.
On the 27th June 1916, Oswald Boelcke scored his last victory in an Eindecker, which brought him a total of 40 downed allied aircraft. While flying the Eindecker, Boelcke received Germany’s highest military decoration, the Pour le Merite or “Blue Max”. By the end of June the “Fokker Scourge” was finally over as allied aircraft design had caught up with the Eindecker.
In June 1916 the first German submarine for civilian use safely reached America. The un-armed submarine freighter Deutsland, skippered by Merchant Navy Captain Paul Konig, transported cargo from Bremen to Baltimore in Maryland. The Deutsland successfully returned to Germany in August 1916, and continued until un-restricted U-Boat warfare was declared in 1917.
The German bombardment of Fort Vaux began on the 1st June 1916. Inside the fort were 600 troops commanded by Major Raynal. The barrage stopped suddenly just before dawn on the 2nd June 1916 and two German battalions moved forward, and by mid-afternoon had occupied a large part of the structure of Fort Vaux. Raynal’s determination to resist, resulted in the defenders withdrawing to the underground corridors.
On the 4th June 1916, at Fort Vaux the Germans used flamethrowers in an attempt to drive out the French with asphyxiating black smoke. Raynal sent out his last carrier pigeon with a message to send immediate help.
A relief French force arrived on the 5th June 1916, but suffered terrible casualties in the course of trying to relieve the pressure on Fort Vaux. The men of the fort, were by now, suffering from lack of water and by the 7th June 1916 Raynal decided his only alternative was to surrender. The Germans finally captured Fort Vaux on the 8th June 1916, but had paid a heavy price with over 2,740 casualties while the French had suffered roughly 100 casualties.
The French 3rd Company of the 137th Infantry Regiment was wiped out on the 10th June 1916. The troops were buried in their trench at the Ravine de la Dame. After the war, when the authorities were overseeing the burial of the dead, they found a line of bayonets sticking up out of the earth and discovered the bodies buried beneath them. The Trench of Bayonets (“Trenchee Des Baionettes”) has been preserved as a Battle Monument.
When the Germans used phosgene gas near Fort Souville on the evening of the 22nd June 1916, the French were totally surprised. The Germans took Fleury the following day, the 23rd June 1916, but the counter-attack by the French halted the German advance. A further German offensive planned for early July 1916 was delayed by torrential rain.
On the 30th June1916, the French succeeded in reclaiming Fort Thiaumont, stormed by German forces the previous week.
An artillery bombardment began a 14 mile barrage against the heavily defended German front line at the Somme River on the 24th June 1916. Over 1,400 British and 100 French guns were to participate, and 3 million rounds of artillery ammunition had been stockpiled for this purpose. The bombardment was planned to continue until 29th June 1916 when the infantry would attack the German front line.
This action was requested by the French army to relieve the pressure on Verdun by diverting German troops to defend the Somme region.
The Allied attack was scheduled for the 29th June 1916, but was postponed for two days owing to heavy rain. Raiding parties in no-man’s land had discovered that the bombardment had not been as effective as had been hoped for since the barbed wire, in front of the German front line trenches, was mostly intact despite the pounding it had received. The bombardment was also expected to wipe out the defenders in the front line trenches, but unknown to the Allies the Germans were housed deep in underground dug-outs. Assurances had been forthcoming, by the British high command, that advancing attacking forces would be able to walk across no-man’s land with very little resistance. The reality was, the British and her allies would be faced with virtually uncut wire and the full complement of defensive German troops
The Eastern Front
In an attempt to relieve the German pressure on Verdun, the commander of the Southwestern Front of the Imperial Russian Army, General Aleksei Brusilov, launched a major attack against the Austro-Hungarian forces on the 4th June 1916. It took place in an area of present-day western Ukraine, in the vicinity of the towns of Livov, Kovel and captured the town Lutsk attacking along 48 Km (30miles) of front. The Brusilov Offensive, as it became known, opened with a brief but massively accurate artillery bombardment before unleashing the infantry. The Austro-Hungarian defenders were taken completely by surprise and the short bombardment did not allow them time to bring up reserves and evacuate the front line trenches before the Russian infantry attacked.
On the 6th June 1916, the Russians entered and captured Lutsk, with the Austrians in full retreat. Despite having taken over 200,000 prisoners, Brusilov’s forces were in danger of being overextended. Further success of the operation depended on General Alexei Evert, commander of the Russian Western Army Group, launching his part of the offensive. Evert had opposed Brusilov’s proposals and delayed his offensive, giving the German high command time to send reinforcements to the Eastern Front on the 8th June 1916.
On the 16th June 1916, Evert finally ordered his weak and poorly prepared offensive against the Austro-Hungarian, but the Russians eventually took the town of Czernowitz on the 18th June 1916.
By the end of the June the Russians had advanced over 96 Km (60 miles) in some sections and taken over 350,000 prisoners and 100 guns. They were ready to press on to the Carpathian Mountains.
The Caucasus and Middle East Campaign
Hussein, the Grand Sharif of Mecca began his Arab revolt against the Turkish garrison at Medina in Hejaz on the 5th June 1916. Hussein proclaimed independence from Turkey on the 7th June 1916 and the Turks surrendered at Mecca on the 10th June 1916 which started one of the longest ever sieges, lasting until January 1919.
The Arab revolt arose because the Arabs were desperate for full independence from Turkey, and later in the campaign Lawrence of Arabia assisted in the uprising.