top of page


1916 - First World War

First World War - a year of attrition in which two of the bloodiest battles - Verun and the Somme - were ground out, resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties for both the Allies and Germans

The Allied plan for 1916 was for the British to support the French in a major summer attack along a 40-kilometre front north and south of the River Somme in northern France. This would coincide with attacks by Russia and Italy elsewhere. Unfortunately, this plan was interrupted by events to the south-east on the River Meuse.

Believing that no general breakthrough was possible on the Western Front, the German plan for 1916 opted instead for a limited advance in the Verdun area. By taking territory important to the French defenders, they hoped to instigate large-scale counter-attacks. These would then fall victim to massed German artillery. The German Chief of Staff, General Erich von Falkenhayn, believed this strategy would ‘bleed the French white’.

On 21 February 1916, the Germans attacked Verdun in what became the longest battle of the war. Nicknamed 'the mill on the Meuse', Verdun lasted for over nine months and was one of the bloodiest engagements in history.

But Falkenhayn had overestimated the Germans’ ability to inflict disproportionate losses. Instead, his men found themselves in a battle of attrition that wore them down as much as the French. The Germans sustained around 330,000 casualties during the battle. French losses exceeded 370,000.

In order to relieve the pressure on the French, the Somme offensive was launched with the inexperienced 'New Armies' providing the bulk of the troops involved. After a massive artillery bombardment designed to pound the Germans into submission on 1 July 1916, 14 British divisions attacked.  However, the defenders were not particularly damaged by the artillery barrage, and the advancing infantry were welcomed by a storm of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire. They suffered nearly 60,000 casualties during the first day alone.

Attacks continued through the summer, mostly on a series of individual objectives, with the Germans frequently mounting counter-attacks of their own. The ‘Big Push’ became a slow, grinding struggle of attrition.

On 15 September, the British used tanks for the first time in battle, in support of an attack on Flers-Courcelette. They advanced about 2km, but no breakthrough was made.


Finally, on 18 November 1916, after the weather had deteriorated, Field Marshal Haig shut down the offensive. For an advance of 13km the British Empire had suffered 420,000 casualties and the French 200,000. German losses were at least 450,000 killed and wounded.


Timeline of Events in 1916 

Further Reading


National Army Museum - 1916: Year of Attrition

National Army MuseumBattle of the Somme

BBC Battle of the Somme: 141 Days of Horror

1916 - Easter Rising

Easter Rising - a group of Irish nationalists proclaims the establishment of the Irish Republic and with around 1,600 supporters rebels against the British government in Ireland

Ireland was Britain's oldest colony, under some form of English control since the 12th century, The question of independence sporadically arose throughout the  years of occupation, becoming more vocal during the 19th century.  Some moderate nationalists advocated for home rule, under which Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom but also have some form of self-government. Several home rule bills were defeated in Parliament in the late 1800s before one finally passed in 1914. However, implementation of home rule was suspended due to the outbreak of the First World War.

Meanwhile, members of a secret revolutionary organization called the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), who believed home rule wouldn’t go far enough and instead sought complete independence for Ireland, began planning what would become the Easter Rising. They hoped their rebellion would be aided by military support from Germany, which was fighting the British in World War I. 

The Easter Rising was intended to take place across Ireland; however, various circumstances resulted in it being carried out primarily in Dublin. On April 24, 1916, the rebel leaders and their followers, seized the city’s general post office and other strategic locations. Early that afternoon, from the steps of the post office, Patrick Pearse, one of the uprising’s leaders, read a proclamation declaring Ireland an independent republic and stating that a provisional government had been appointed.

Despite the rebels’ hopes, the public did not rise to support them. The British government soon declared martial law in Ireland, and in less than a week the rebels were crushed by the government forces sent against them. Some 450 people were killed and more than 2,000 others, many of them civilians, were wounded in the violence, which also destroyed much of the Dublin city center.

Initially, many Irish people resented the rebels for the destruction and death caused by the uprising. However, in May, 15 leaders of the uprising were executed by firing squad. More than 3,000 people suspected of supporting the uprising, directly or indirectly, were arrested, and some 1,800 were sent to England and imprisoned there without trial. The rushed executions, mass arrests and martial law, fueled public resentment toward the British and were among the factors that helped build support for the rebels and the movement for Irish independence.


Further Reading


Irish Times - An Illustrated History of the 1916 Rising

BBC Easter Rising 1916: Six Days of Armed Struggle that Changed Irish and British History

The GuardianThe Easter Rising, and a Tale of Two Friends Torn Apart by War

bottom of page