Share This Article

Mr. History:

Regardless of the length of the Allied forces front lines during World War I, why didn’t the Allies simply travel around the front-lines to then attack the Germans from the rear?  Years ago, a veteran told me because the distances were too great.  Does that make any sense, due to the immense losses of men being mowed down by machine gun fire?

My thanks,
David Ing




Dear Mr. Ing,

By 1915 both sides on the Western Front, having failed to make a decisive breakthrough at the onset, had established trench lines or strong points with overlapping fields of fire behind acres of barbed wire, and with backup trenches behind them, stretching from the coast of Flanders to Switzerland. There simply was no place open to a flanking attack. A British amphibious landing in Flanders risked not only well-prepared German coastal defenses, but potential attack from a still-intact and powerful German High Seas Fleet. Nevertheless, in 1917 the British actually were planning an amphibious invasion behind German Lines on the Belgian coast, in concert with a land offensive. In the end, however, only the land offensive was ever carried out. It was officially called the Third Battle of Ypres but is better remembered as Passchendaele—and a British disaster.

Besides the legalities involved in invading it, Switzerland was severely mountainous and defended by an army of its own that was—and remains to this day—quite ready and willing to fight anyone who violates its neutrality. The next three years, therefore, would be spent striving for a decisive break through existing defenses, until the final German collapse between July and November 1918.



Jon Guttman

Research Director

World History

More Questions at Ask Mr. History


Don’t miss the next Ask Mr. History question! To receive notification whenever any new item is published on HistoryNet, just scroll down the column on the right and sign up for our RSS feed.