top of page


1917 - First World War

First World War - a year of stalemate in the trenches, with Germany adopting a defensive strategy to counter the growing strength of the allies, especially after America joined the war

Having suffered heavily in containing the Allied offensives of 1916, between February and April, the Germans withdrew to a new fortified position known as the Hindenburg Line. Significantly shorter, and protected with pillboxes and deep belts of wire, it gave the Germans a stronger position to defend. 

In April, the first major Allied offensive of the year took place at Arras.  The initial momentum of the attack saw advances of up to 8km in the first two days.  However, the early progress was eventually halted by tough German resistance and logistics problems. Reinforcements, artillery and supplies could not keep up with the advancing troops. By 16 May - the official end of the battle - the Arras front had returned to the stalemate of trench warfare.  Casualties were heavy on both sides - surpassing 150,000 for the British and Canadians, and 100,000 for the Germans. 

The French suffered even more, with a failed offensive on the river Aisne grinding to a halt after massive casualties.  This led to mutinies in the French Army and General Nivelle’s dismissal.

The British began another assault on 7 June 1917, with a series of huge mine explosions at Messines Ridge. They killed around 10,000 Germans and totally disrupted their lines.  However, this breakthrough was not exploited, and the Germans moved more troops in to bolster their defences.

The Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele) was launched on 31 July after a two-week preliminary bombardment that failed to destroy the heavily fortified German positions. The initial Anglo-French attack (the Battle of Pilckem Ridge) was hampered by heavy rain and failed to achieve a breakthrough. But the Allies captured a substantial amount of ground from which they hoped to renew their assault. The subsequent Battle of Langemarck (16-18 August) saw two days of fierce fighting in muddy conditions. This again resulted in small gains and heavy casualties for the British.

The foul weather and waterlogged terrain forced the British to halt the offensive temporarily in the hope that the ground would dry out. When it resumed, strong German resistance, including the use of mustard gas, saw the operation grind to a halt in the shell-churned mud. 

By the time the Canadians had captured the town of Passchendaele on 6 November 1917, the British had advanced 8km. Commonwealth and French losses approached 300,000. German casualties were 260,000.  This battle of attrition almost broke the resolve of both armies. The Germans, with fewer men, could less afford the casualties than the Allies. Nevertheless, Field Marshal Haig and the high command have since been accused of continuing the offensive long after it was clear to many that men were dying for relatively little strategic gain.


Timeline of Events in 1917 

Further Reading


National Army Musuem - 1917: Year of Stalemate

National Army Musuem - Battle of Passchendaele

History.comThe United States Enters World War I

Rare Historical Photos The United States During World War One (1917-1918)

1917 - Russian Revolution

Russian Revolution - a violent Bolshevik revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, seizes power and ends centuries of imperial rule

In the early 1900s, Russia was one of the most impoverished countries in Europe with an enormous peasantry and a growing minority of poor industrial workers.  Russia industrialized much later than Western Europe and the United States. When it finally did, around the turn of the 20th century, it brought with it immense social and political changes.

Social unrest in Russia had been simmering for decades, and reforms had proved ineffective and unpopular.  However, it was the disastrous performance of the the Russian armed forces during the First World War that brought things to boiling point. Militarily, imperial Russia was no match for industrialized Germany, and Russian casualties were greater than those sustained by any nation in any previous war. Food and fuel shortages plagued Russia as inflation mounted. The economy was hopelessly disrupted by the costly war effort.

Czar Nicholas left the Russian capital of Petrograd in 1915 to take command of the Russian Army front. In her husband’s absence, Czarina Alexandra—an unpopular woman of German ancestry—began firing elected officials. During this time, her controversial advisor, Grigory Rasputin, increased his influence over Russian politics and the royal Romanov family.

Russian nobles eager to end Rasputin’s influence murdered him on December 30, 1916. By then, most Russians had lost faith in the failed leadership of the czar. Government corruption was rampant, the Russian economy remained backward and Nicholas repeatedly dissolved the Duma, the toothless Russian parliament established after the 1905 revolution, when it opposed his will. Moderates soon joined Russian radical elements in calling for an overthrow of the hapless czar.

During the February Revolution, demonstrators clamoring for bread took to the streets of Petrograd. Supported by huge crowds of striking industrial workers, the protesters clashed with police but refused to leave the streets. On March 11, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising. In some encounters, the regiments opened fire, killing demonstrators, but the protesters kept to the streets and the troops began to waver.


The Duma formed a provisional government on March 12. A few days later, Czar Nicholas abdicated the throne, ending centuries of Russian Romanov rule. The leaders of the provisional government, including young Russian lawyer Alexander Kerensky, established a liberal program of rights such as freedom of speech, equality before the law, and the right of unions to organize and strike. They opposed violent social revolution.

As minister of war, Kerensky continued the Russian war effort, even though Russian involvement was enormously unpopular. This further exacerbated Russia’s food supply problems. Unrest continued to grow as peasants looted farms and food riots erupted in the cities.

During the subsequent October Revolution leftist revolutionaries led by Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin launched a nearly bloodless coup d’état against the Duma’s provisional government. The provisional government had been assembled by a group of leaders from Russia’s bourgeois capitalist class. Lenin instead called for a Soviet government that would be ruled directly by councils of soldiers, peasants and workers. The Bolsheviks and their allies occupied government buildings and other strategic locations in Petrograd, and soon formed a new government with Lenin as its head. Lenin became the dictator of the world’s first communist state.

Civil War broke out in Russia in late 1917 after the Bolshevik Revolution. The warring factions included the Red and White Armies. The Red Army fought for the Lenin’s Bolshevik government. The White Army represented a large group of loosely allied forces, including monarchists, capitalists and supporters of democratic socialism.


The Russian Civil War ended in 1923 with Lenin’s Red Army claiming victory and establishing the Soviet Union.


Timeline of Revolution


Further Reading


17 Moments in Soviet History - 1917

National GeographicFrom Tsar to U.S.S.R: Russia's Chaotic Year of Revolution

British LibraryRussian Revolution

bottom of page