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Gallipoli Campaign (1915-16) and Battles of the Isonzo (1915-17)
With World War I having effectively settled into a stalemate in Europe, the Allies attempted to score a victory against the Ottoman Empire, which had entered the conflict on the side of the Central Powers in late 1914. After a failed attack on the Dardanelles (the strait linking the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea), Allied forces led by Britain launched a large-scale land invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in April 1915. The invasion also proved a dismal failure, and in January 1916 Allied forces were forced to stage a full retreat from the shores of the peninsula, after suffering 250,000 casualties.
British-led forces also combated the Turks in Egypt and Mesopotamia, while in northern Italy Austrian and Italian troops faced off in a series of 12 battles along the Isonzo River, located at the border between the two nations. The First Battle of the Isonzo took place in the late spring of 1915, soon after Italy's entrance into the war on the Allied side; in the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo, or the Battle of Caporetto (October 1917), German reinforcements helped Austria-Hungary win a decisive victory. After Caporetto, Italy's allies jumped in to offer increased assistance. British and French--and later American--troops arrived in the region, and the Allies began to take back the initiative on the Italian Front.
World War I at Sea (1914-17)
After the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915, the German navy chose not to confront Britain's mighty Royal Navy in a major battle for more than a year, preferring to rest the bulk of its strategy at sea on its lethal U-boat submarines. The biggest naval engagement of World War I, the Battle of Jutland (May 1916) left British naval superiority on the North Sea intact, and Germany would make no further attempts to break the Allied naval blockade for the remainder of the war.
It was Germany's policy of unchecked submarine aggression against shipping interests headed to Great Britain that helped bring the United States into World War I in 1917. Widespread protest over the sinking by U-boat of the British ocean liner Lusitania in May 1915 helped turn the tide of American public opinion steadfastly against Germany, and in February 1917 Congress passed a $250 million arms appropriations bill intended to make the United States ready for war. Germany sunk four more U.S. merchant ships the following month and on April 2 President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress and called for a declaration of war against Germany.
Toward an Armistice (1917-18)
With Germany able to build up its strength on the Western Front after the armistice with Russia, Allied troops struggled to hold off another German offensive until promised reinforcements from the United States were able to arrive. On July 15, 1918, German troops under Erich von Ludendorff launched what would become the last German offensive of the war, attacking French forces (joined by 85,000 American troops as well as some of the British Expeditionary Force) in the Second Battle of the Marne. Thanks in part to the strategic leadership of the French commander-in-chief, Philippe Petain, the Allies put back the German offensive, and launched their own counteroffensive just three days later. After suffering massive casualties, Ludendorff was forced to call off a planned German offensive further north, in the Flanders region stretching between France and Belgium, which he had envisioned as Germany's best hope of victory.
The Second Battle of the Marne turned the tide of war decisively towards the Allies, who were able to regain much of France and Belgium in the months that followed. By the fall of 1918, the Central Powers were unraveling on all fronts. Despite the Turkish victory at Gallipoli, later defeats by invading forces and an Arab revolt had combined to destroy the Ottoman economy and devastate its land, and the Turks signed a treaty with the Allies in late October 1918. Austria-Hungary, dissolving from within due to growing nationalist movements among its diverse population, reached an armistice on November 4. Facing dwindling resources on the battlefield, discontent on the home front and the surrender of its allies, Germany was finally forced to seek an armistice on November 11, 1918, ending World War I.
World War I's Legacy
World War I took the life of more than 9 million soldiers; 21 million more were wounded. Civilian casualties caused indirectly by the war numbered close to 10 million. The two nations most affected were Germany and France, each of which sent some 80 percent of their male populations between the ages of 15 and 49 into battle. The war also marked the fall of four imperial dynasties--Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Turkey.
At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that would safeguard itself against future conflicts of such devastating scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, would not achieve this objective. Saddled with war guilt and heavy reparations and denied entrance into the League of Nations, Germany felt tricked into signing the treaty, having believed any peace would be a "peace without victory" as put forward by Wilson in his famous Fourteen Points speech of January 1918. As the years passed, hatred of the Versailles treaty and its authors settled into a smoldering resentment in Germany that would, two decades later, be counted among the causes of World War II.
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