World War I

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What was the difference between the Eastern Front and the Western Front during World War I?

A major difference between the Eastern and Western Fronts was their size. The larger Eastern Front meant that the war there was more fluid, and fighting was characterized by mobility and offensives. The smaller Western Front saw much less movement, and fighting was characterized by defensive trench warfare. Russia also suffered from internal divisions which led to revolution and the end of its involvement in the war.

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Geographically, the Eastern Front was much larger than the Western Front. It stretched from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. By contrast, the Western Front comprised just a few hundred miles. The larger size of the Eastern Front meant that trench warfare never developed to any substantial degree there. The Western Front was small enough to be entirely blocked off by trenches. As a result, fighting on the Western Front was much more static than in the East. The fighting in the West turned into a stalemate, where armies would fight viciously for very little strategic gain.

As a result of this difference, tactics were very different. The nature of the trenches on the Western Front meant that defensive tactics were more often employed. On the Eastern Front, the lack of defensive fortifications meant that offensives and counter-offensives were more often employed.

The nature of the nations on each front also played a difference. On the Eastern Front, Russia had a massive army. Even before the war began, Russia had a standing army larger than any of the other combative nations. However, Russia was plagued by internal strife. This led to the Russian revolution of 1917, which eventually led the country to sue for peace with Germany. The British and the French on the Western Front had to quickly raise their armies once the war started. This accounted for the initial successes of Germany in that region. France and Great Britain did not have the internal divisions that Russia had. Therefore, once they were able to deploy to the battlefield, they managed to put up an effective enough fight to wear down their enemy.

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The biggest difference between the Eastern and Western Fronts during World War I was that the Allied Powers (Britain, France, United States, Italy) eventually won the war in the west, whereas in the east, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) forced Russia, racked by revolution, to surrender with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March of 1918, essentially ending the war on the Eastern Front. In fact, the Germans hastened Russia's surrender by releasing the exiled Bolshevik leader, Lenin, and several of his followers in April 1917. Within the year, the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia and taken the Russian state out of the war. In the west, the inclusion of United States forces in 1918 brought the war to a conclusion with Germany's surrender in November 1918.

Another significant difference was that the two fronts were much different in size. While officially over 400 miles from the Swiss border to the North Sea, the Western Front mostly consisted of a series of trenches along the borders of France, Belgium, and Germany. For four years, the British, French and Germans dug themselves in and traded the same land back and forth in a brutal war of attrition that caused millions of casualties on both sides.

In contrast, the war on the Eastern Front spanned some 900 miles...

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from the Black Sea in the south to St. Petersburg in the north. Battles were fought across this long front with troops traveling great distances to engage the enemy. Like the Western Front, however, the war in the east descended into stalemate until chaos and political upheaval exploded in Russia. Starvation, lack of weapons, and poor leadership caused the Russian army to flee the front and allow the Bolsheviks to sue for peace.

Technologically, the fronts were also different. British, French, and German armies employed a series of new technical advancements during the war on the Western Front. Tanks, airplanes, flamethrowers, and a wide range of other assorted devices were employed for the task of killing. Newsreels shot footage of early tanks, which were little more than tread, metal, and gun. However, they struck fear in the hearts of infantry men. Airplanes soared over the trenches and sometimes engaged in pitched aerial battles. Aviators like the Red Baron and Eddie Rickenbacker became household names. Most threatening of all was the introduction of mustard gas by the Germans at the Battle of Ypres in 1917. Soon enough, the gas mask became standard issue for troops on the Western Front.

The Russians not only lacked modern equipment, their country's roads and railway systems were totally lacking in their ability to transport troops in a timely fashion. Even worse, some of the country's nearly twelve million troops went into battle without guns. They would then simply pick up the rifle of a fallen comrade. Because of their primitive equipment and infrastructure, the Russians could only throw wave after wave of men at the smaller German and Austro-Hungarian forces. At the Battle of Tannenberg early in the war, the Russians, who fielded a much larger army, could not effectively communicate. They even let important uncoded messages fall into the hands of the Germans, who killed over 50,000 Russians and took nearly 100,000 as prisoners.

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In World War I, there were two major fronts where fighting occurred. These were the Eastern Front and the Western Front. The Germans developed a plan hoping to avoid fighting a two-front war. The Germans wanted to defeat France very quickly on the Western Front and then fight the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front. When Germany was unable to defeat France on the Western Front, they had to fight a two-front war.

The main difference between the Eastern Front and the Western Front, besides location, was the kind of fighting that occurred on each front. The Western Front saw trench warfare. This is where each side dug a series of ditches, called trenches, from where each side fought. The area between the trenches was called “no man’s land.” This kind of warfare saw many casualties, especially when one side tried to capture the other side’s trenches by crossing over the area of “no man’s land.”

In the Eastern Front, there were far fewer trenches. The harsh winters and the vast expanse of land made trench warfare very difficult to use effectively on the Eastern Front. There was much more movement of the armies on the Eastern Front, unlike on the Western Front.

The fighting on the Eastern Front was different from the fighting on the Western Front.

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