On August 28, 1914, World War I spreads from land to sea when the first major naval battle of the conflict breaks out between British and German ships in the North Sea, near the northern coast of Germany.
The battle occurred in a partially enclosed body of water known as Heligoland Bight, which was used to shelter several bases of the German High Seas Fleet and also offered a good starting-off point for attacks against the British Isles.
The German fleet had rarely ventured far from port, however, when British commander Reginald Tyrwhitt was given the task of leading a small fleet of British ships, including two light cruisers,Fearless and Arethusa, and a number of destroyers, into the bight in order to lure German ships to chase them out to sea, where a larger British force, commanded by Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty, would be waiting to confront them.
Around seven o’clock on the morning of August 28, 1914, Tyrwhitt’s squadron began the operation by sinking two German torpedo boats. As the British attack had not caught the German fleet entirely by surprise, its defense was ready, and Tyrwhitt soon found his men outgunned by a German force, including six light cruisers, who used the thick fog hanging over the bight to partially conceal themselves and fire unexpectedly on the British ships. At 11: 25 am, Tyrwhitt called on Beatty for immediate assistance; Beatty’s First Battle Cruiser Squadron rushed to his aid from some 40 kilometers away, reaching the bight at 12:40 pm. The powerful British squadron subsequently sank three German cruisers and damaged three more, causing a total of 1,200 German casualties. Britain, on the other hand, lost only 35 sailors, and all of their ships remained afloat.
“Everybody quite mad with delight at the success of our first naval venture,” Beatty wrote to his wife of the conclusion of the Battle of Heligoland Bight. On the other side, the early defeat of the German High Seas Fleet by the mighty Royal Navy did much to intimidate Germany at sea at the outset of the war; Kaiser Wilhelm, for one, concluded that the navy should be kept off the open seas, as its best use was as a defensive weapon. As the war continued, Germany’s greatest weapon at sea would not be its light cruisers but its lethal U-boat submarine. Used to deadly effect against enemy (and neutral) shipping interests, the success of the German U-boats would provoke at least one previously neutral great power—the United States—into entering World War I against Germany.
On this day in 1916, after Romania declares war on Austria-Hungary, formally entering World War I, Romanian troops cross the border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the much-contested province of Transylvania.
By the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Romania had long been at odds with Austria-Hungary over the issue of territory—specifically Transylvania, which was ethnically Romanian but then part of Hungary. Seeing Russia’s success against Austria on the battlefields of the Eastern Front during the summer of 1916, Romania hoped to make an advantageous entry into the war in order to realize long-held dreams of territorial expansion and national unity. On August 18, 1916, the Romanian government signed a secret treaty with the Allies; by its terms, in the event of an Allied victory Romania would acquire Transylvania, up to the River Theiss, the province of Bukovina to the River Pruth, and the entire Banat region, all territory under Austro-Hungarian control. On August 27, Romania fulfilled its treaty obligation by declaring war against Austria-Hungary.
As Romanian troops opened a new front of the war in Transylvania, British forces pressured Germany on the Somme River, and Austria faltered against Russia in the east, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany briefly panicked, telling close confidantes that “The war is lost.” He regained perspective quickly, however, and moved to strengthen Germany’s defensive position, replacing Erich von Falkenhayn with Paul von Hindenburg as chief of the German General Staff on August 28. Within two weeks, at a conference that included Turkish and Bulgarian leaders, Wilhelm sanctioned the creation of a Supreme War Command, effectively giving Hindenburg command of all the armies of the Central Powers in World War I.
The demoted Falkenhayn, meanwhile, took control of Germany’s operations against Romania; in this he was joined by another prominent German general, August von Mackensen. By December 1916, Falkenhayn and Mackensen had led their troops to a decisive victory against Romania, overrunning much of the country and occupying the capital city, Bucharest, on December 9, 1916. Though Russian troops entered Romania early the following year, the Russian army was on the verge of collapse; with the Russian Revolution that year, the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, and Russia’s subsequent exit from the war in early 1918, Romania was forced to surrender to the Central Powers at Bucharest that May, having suffered some 335,000 casualties during the course of the war, not including civilian deaths.
According to the Peace of Bucharest, Romania lost land along its coast to Bulgaria, as well as control of the mouth of the Danube River, which the Central Powers commandeered. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 reversed these losses, however; it also gave Romania control of the long-desired province of Transylvania.