The Genesis of the Western Front

How did the Allied Powers become committed to fighting the First World War on the Western Front, so that Germany, until near the end, always held the initative? John Terraine investigates.

Because of its particular horrors, the Western Front of 1914-1918 has come to occupy a special place in the minds of people who read history. There is a general awareness of the vast scale of the Allied effort on that front throughout the First World War, of the immensity of the losses sustained there under frequently hideous conditions, and of the bitter controversy that has raged ever since about the need for either the effort or the loss - a controversy not stilled by the popular demand for the “Second Front,” and its decisive success in the same arena during the Second World War. Yet in 1944 the problem was complicated by the fact that an opposed landing had to be made before a Western Front could even come into existence, while in 1914 the Allied riposte at the Marne established that front without interruption as the permanent major theatre of war. This is a contradiction that seems likely to engage historians for many- more years to come. At the root of all the controversy there may well he, as with so many of the complex and difficult passages in human affairs, a terrible simplicity.

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