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1916 The War of Attrition

This map is part of a series of 20 animated maps showing the history of The first World War, 1914-1918.

At the end of 1915, the English, French, Russians and Italians decided to plan a substantial coordinated offensive to prevent the Central Powers from moving their forces from one front to another. At the request of the Russians, who estimated that they would not be ready before June, the operations were timed to take place at the end of spring.

But the Germans took the initiative in February 1916 in the region of Verdun, their primary objective being to wear down the French army. The artillery bombardment was of unequalled intensity.

Fierce engagements went on for several months without significantly altering the front line.

In May, the Austro‑Hungarians launched an operation in the region of Trentino with limited success.

These attacks by the Central Powers interfered with the preparation of the allies’ plan, but it was not abandoned:

The offensive was launched in the east on 4 June 1916, principally on the southern part of the front.

Initially, the Russian armies under General Brusilov advanced about 100 kilometers into Galicia, and hold off the Austrian and German counter‑attack. But the resumption of the Russian offensive in August soon came to a halt.

On the Western Front, the allied offensive began on 1 July on the Somme River with a majority of British troops, due to the commitment of French troops at Verdun.

After 5 months of fighting, the French and British troops had made very little progress, despite losses and casualties of some half million soldiers on both sides.

On the southern front, also during the summer, Italian troops launched a new offensive on the Isonzo, the sixth since June 1915. Victorious in Gorizia, they were nonetheless brought to a halt about 40 kilometers from Trieste.

At the end of August, Romania entered the war on the side of the entente. However, due to a lack of support from its allies, it quickly found itself caught between the German, Austrian and Bulgarian troops. Bucharest fell in December.

Thus, at the end of 1916, many territories were occupied by the Central Powers: a large part of Romania and its petroleum resources, the central part of the Balkans, western Russia, Belgium and northern France. However, after 30 months of fighting marked by tremendous loss of life and equipment, the war was at an impasse: the French still held the line at Verdun, the German army was entrenched on the Somme, and neither of the two camps appeared capable of winning the decisive victory.