The British contribution to the Western Front

The British contribution to the Western Front

At the outbreak of the First World War the British Expeditionary Force was deployed to Belgium and Northern France. This force numbered some 120,000 men. The first action seen by the BEF was at the Battle of Mons which saw heavy casualties inflicted upon the Germans. Following this the BEF fought at the Battle of the Marne and successfully prevented the Germans outflanking British and French Troops during the ‘race for the sea’. After the First Battle of Ypres the British army was stationed along just 20 miles of front line trenches, in and around the Ypres Salient. By the end of the war the British controlled over 140 miles of front line trenches.

By the end of the war over 7 million men and women had seen service in the British Army. Of these 1.6 million were recorded as being wounded, 662000 were killed and 140000 were listed as missing, presumed dead.

The figures above suggest a massive contribution to the war effort. Whilst these numbers are staggering and remarkably high it is worth remembering that the British were just one of the armies participating on the Western Front. The French army was larger and in control of a larger part of the front line for the entirety of the war. The Western Front Association has calculated the percentage of troops that were British on the Western Front and the average length of front line controlled by each army:

Year. Monthly mean British Frontage. British as % of total French British Frontage Maximum length of British Frontage
1914 21 miles 4.7% 25 miles
1915 43 miles 9.7% 70 miles
1916 80 miles 18.0% 90 miles
1917 87 miles 19.6% 110 miles
1918 87 miles 23.8% 123 miles

 First World War Homepage
Causes of the First World War – Assassination of Franz Ferdinand
Schlieffen Plan – Public Reaction to the Outbreak of War
British Expeditionary Force –  Interactive Timeline of the First World War
Simulation: Life in the Trenches – Statistics
Changing role of Women – War Poetry
British Contribution to Western Front – Development of New Weapons
Creeping Barrage – Western Front in 1918
Home Front in the First World War
Timeline Infographic: Causes of World War OneLudendorff and the Spring OffensiveThe Western Front Association