1916 was the year the war began to degenerate into one of attrition and trench warfare. The battles at Verdun and the Somme saw unheard-of losses on both sides, with little gains on either side. At sea, the battle of Jutland saw the British and German navies also fight to a stalemate. Russia was on the verge of revolution, and Rasputin's influence on the Tsar was brought to an end with his death.
Return to the World War I Timeline
Backward | Forward
- Britain introduces conscription
The British House of Commons decides that volunteers will not be enough to win the war, and compulsory recruitment is necessary. The vote follows a report that shows that 500,000 single men have not volunteered to join up, while the same number of married men would be willing to volunteer, but would not be accepted. Some ministers resign over the conscription issue.
Feb 21 The Battle of Verdun begins
A German artillery barrage bombards the French defences at Verdun in the centre of the Western Front. As the Germans advance, they are met by machine gun fire from the French positions. Although the French have intelligence that the Germans will attack at Verdun, the French commander Joffre believes they will instead attack at Champagne, and leaves Verdun unreinforced. The battle lasts until December, by which time 364,000 Allies and 338,000 Germans will be dead.
- Easter Rising in Dublin
The Easter Rising in Dublin sees the capture of the GPO in the city centre by Irish republicans. The republicans are executed in May, but the rising is the start of what will become an independent Ireland.
- Battle of Jutland
Jutland is the scene of the clash of the British and German dreadnought fleets, the two most powerful navies in the world at the time. Like Verdun, the battle is seen by historians as a draw, with no clear victory on either side. The Germans retreat back to their own waters and Wilhelmshafen, but the British seem to have lost more men and ships.
- Brusilov offensive begins
Russia's major contribution to the war on the Eastern Front takes place in Ukraine under forces led by Aleksei Brusilov. Following a brief but accurate artillery barrage, much shorter than was common before a major assault, troops advance from previously concealed positions close to the Austro-Hungarian lines. Brusilov's initial surprise attack is successful, and his later use of shock troops is innovative. Brusilov will reach the Carpathian mountains by September, when his forces will be transferred to help Romania. Brusilov's offensive has distracted German forces from the Western Front and Verdun, and forced them to send more of their forces to the East. The Austro-Hungarian army is considerably weakened by the offensive.
July 1 - The Somme
The Battle of the Somme on the Western Front begins, soon to become one of the most infamous of the war. A long battle of trench warfare in a muddy swamp pulverised by artillery fire which failed to destroy the barbed wire and trenches, by the end of November 650,000 Allies will be dead, and 500,000 Germans. Many are cut down trying to advance through murderous machine gun fire. Neither side will gain significant ground.
- Romania enters war; Hindenburg takes over German command
The Kaiser, Wilhelm II, has sacked Erich von Falkenhayn as leader of the German army; he has been replaced by Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, who led the Germans to victory at the Battle of Tannenburg. Hindenburg wants to reinforce the Eastern Front following Romania's entry into the war on the Allied side; Falkenhayn had preferred to concentrate on the Western Front - it seems the Kaiser has overruled him. The Romanians have attacked the South Carpathians with three armies, but the Austro-Hungarians look set to reinforce their positions.
- Tanks change the face of warfare
Sept 15 Tanks are first used by the British at the Somme: the machines strike terror in German ranks, and boost British morale, but there are only 32, and many break down. 7 miles of territory are gained on a 30-mile front; it has been argued that Haig should have waited until larger stocks of the machines had been assembled.
- Wilson is re-elected
US President Woodrow Wilson is narrowly re-elected after a campaign overshadowed by the European war. He is elected on a peace platform, but will soon be forced to lead America into war.
- Germans cross Danube
The Germans under August von Mackensen have made significant gains in Romania, crossing the Danube, and advancing towards Bucharest. The capital will fall on December 6.
- Lloyd George becomes British PM
The Welshman David Lloyd George has been elected Prime Minister of Britain. He takes over from Herbert Asquith, who is unhappy with press criticism of his handling of the war, and believes Lloyd George has been plotting behind his back with the help of Lord Northcliffe, who owns The Times newspaper. Both lloyd George and Asquith are members of the Liberal Party, which has been divided by their quarrels.
- Rasputin is murdered by Russian nobles
Grigori Rasputin, the charismatic Siberian monk who has been a close confidant of the Russian Tsar's wife Alexandra, has been murdered by two relatives of Tsar Nicholas II. They had feared the mystic's influence over her. Rasputin is said to have helped heal the hemophilia of the Tsar's son Alexei, heir to the throne. Rasputin was poisoned, shot, and bludgeoned, before being thrown into the river Neva.
20th Century Day by Day, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2000