More about World War I

More about World War I

The British Army 1914-18

Compared to the massive armies of France and Germany, the British Army was small in the years preceding World War I. Unlike the mainly conscript armies of the other European nations, it was made up entirely of career soldiers, volunteers and reservists.


Given that the majority of British servicemen had overseas postings at the time of the outbreak of war, it is astonishing how swiftly and smoothly the 100,000 strong British Expeditionary Force to northern France was mobilised in August 1914, and how the call for volunteers was answered so comprehensively after the defeats of the first few weeks.

Army numbers rose to 1,186,000 by the end of the year; by 1918, the Army totalled 7,165,280 men, over five million of whom served on the western front. Many of the men joined what were called ‘pals battalions’ made up of recruits from the same community, factory or profession. They fought together and died together. Only later, in 1916, was conscription introduced, as the Army became desperately short of men.irst few weeks.

The Royal Navy 1914-18

When war broke out in 1914, Britain had the largest and most powerful navy in the world one that was wholly in keeping with its prime role of protecting the home nation’s links with its vast global empire. 

The German fleet had been expanding rapidly since the start of the century but Britain had the edge in technology and weaponry as well as numbers, typified by the launch in 1906 of HMS Dreadnought, the world’s fastest battleship. Every Briton assumed that, whatever the success or otherwise of our troops on land, it was the Royal Navy that would keep our islands free from invasion and engineer Germany’s eventual defeat by enforcing a blockade of enemy ports.

The Royal Flying Corps/Royal Air Force 1914-18

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was founded in 1912, only nine years after Orville and Wilbur Wright had stunned the world with the very first powered flight. The military potential of aviation was understood from the start but, in spite of huge strides in aircraft development and flying techniques, few saw beyond the use of aeroplanes for reconnaissance purposes.

Most of the pilots had taken up flying as a hobby and had been trained at independent flying schools or the newly created Central Flying School. Early in the war, the RFC’s support role in gathering photographic reconnaissance on troop movements and enemy positions left the planes vulnerable to attack. In response, aircraft were soon mounted with machine guns and, eventually, interrupter gears which allowed firing through the arc of the propeller blade. Aerial battles became commonplace along the western front, with a high casualty rate on both sides, though for the first two years of the war as many pilots were killed in training as in combat.