June 1

This Day in History

World War I

Jun 1, 1916:

Germans launch attack on British lines in Ypres Salient

On the first day of June 1916, as German and British naval forces clash in the North Sea during the Battle of Jutland and the French resist the persistent German siege at Verdun, German army troops launch a major attack on British lines in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front.

As the nexus of an Allied salient that blocked any German advance to the English Channel, the town of Ypres, Belgium, saw nearly constant fighting during World War I. Three major battles—in October-November 1914, April-May 1915 and July-November 1917—punctuated a stream of smaller attacks, including one on June 1, 1916, by German troops. The Germans advanced 700 yards through the British trenches along a 3,000-yard front near Ypres; among the casualties were one British general killed and one taken prisoner. Within 48 hours, however, the British were able recover some of the captured ground.

On the same day, at the city of Verdun, France, where French troops had been under siege since February 21, 1916, the Germans began a fresh attack against Fort Vaux, one of two principal fortresses used to defend Verdun. The other, Fort Douaumont, had fallen on February 25, but Fort Vaux had managed to hold out for three months under a relentless German onslaught. A previous assault, on March 2, had been thrown back by French forces, though one of the prisoners taken that day was Captain Charles de Gaulle, wounded in the thigh by a German bayonet. The German attack that began June 1 proved too much for the French defenders, and on June 7 the Germans finally captured Fort Vaux and its 600 surviving soldiers.

Verdun itself, however, continued to hold out, as the French desperately urged their allies, Britain and Russia, to launch offensives of their own to divert German men and resources. Russia responded first, with the famed Brusilov Offensive—named for General Alexei Brusilov—that nearly decimated the Austro-Hungarian army on the Eastern Front. In early July, Britain struck the Germans near the Somme River in France, as grinding, bloody battles continued on all fronts of World War I.

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