World War 1 inflicted hitherto unseen violence on Europe and entangled the entire planet in the conflict-the first time a war was so far reaching. It broke empires, launched new nations onto the international stage, and caused humanity to question its innate goodness.
Scroll down to learn about the causes of World War 1, major battles, its end, treaties, and aftermath.
World War 1 Timeline
|28 June 1914||Assassination of Franz Ferdinand||The Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been annexed from Turkey and taken into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This was strongly resented by many Serbs and Croats and a nationalist group, The Black Hand, was formed.|
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, had decided to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops in Bosnia. The date chosen for the inspection was a national day in Bosnia. The Black Hand supplied a group of students with weapons for an assassination attempt to mark the occasion.
A Serbian nationalist student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, when their open car stopped at a corner on its way out of the town.
|28 July 1914||Austria declared war on Serbia||The Austrian government blamed the Serbian government for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife and declared war on Serbia.|
Although Russia was allied with Serbia, Germany did not believe that she would mobilise and offered to support Austria if necessary.
However, Russia did mobilise and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to mobilise.
|1 Aug 1914||Germany declared war on Russia||Germany declared war on Russia.|
|3 Aug 1914||Germany declared war on France||Germany declared war on France. German troops poured into Belgium as directed under the Schleiffen Plan, drawn up in 1905. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding their withdrawal from the neutral Belgium.|
|4 Aug 1914||British declaration of war||Germany did not withdraw from Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany.|
|Aug 1914||Battle of Tannenberg||The Russian army marched into Prussia. However, because of the differences in railway gauge between Russia and Prussia it was difficult for the Russians to get supplies through to their men. The Germans, on the other hand, used their railway system to surround the Russian Second army at Tannenberg before it's commander could realise what was happening. The ensuing battle was a heavy defeat for the Russians with thousands of men killed and 125,000 taken prisoner. Although the Germans won the battle, 13,000 men were killed.|
|13 Aug 1914||Japan declared war on Germany||Japan declared war on Germany through her alliance with Great Britain, signed in 1902|
|Sept 1914||Battle of Masurian Lakes||Having defeated the Russian Second army, the Germans turned their attention to the Russian First army at Masurian Lakes. Although the Germans were unable to defeat the army completely, over 100,000 Russians were taken prisoner.|
|29 Oct 1914||Turkey||Turkey entered the war on the side of the central powers and gave help to a German naval bombardment of Russia.|
|2 Nov 1914||Russia declared war on Turkey||Because of the help given by Turkey to the German attack of Russia, Russia declared war on Turkey.|
|5 Nov 1914||Britain and France declared war on Turkey||Britain and France, Russia's allies, declared war on Turkey, because of the help given to the German attack on Russia.|
|late 1914||Early stages of the war||The German advance through Belgium to France did not go as smoothly as the Germans had hoped. The Belgians put up a good fight destroying railway lines to slow the transport of German supplies.|
Despite a French counter-attack that saw the deaths of many Frenchmen on the battlefields at Ardennes, the Germans continued to march into France. They were eventually halted by the allies at the river Marne.
British troops had advanced from the northern coast of France to the Belgian town of Mons. Although they initially held off the Germans, they were soon forced to retreat.
The British lost a huge number of men at the first battle of Ypres.
By Christmas, all hopes that the war would be over had gone and the holiday saw men of both sides digging themselves into the trenches of theWestern Front.
|Dec 1914||Zeppelins||The first Zeppelins appeared over the English coast.|
|7 May 1915||Lusitania sunk||There outraged protests from the United States at the German U-boat campaign, when the Lusitania, which had many American passengers aboard, was sank. The Germans moderated their U-boat campaign.|
|23 May 1915||Italy||Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies.|
|2 Apr 1915||Second Battle of Ypres||Poison gas was used for the first time during this battle. The gas, fired by the Germans claimed many British casualties.|
|Feb 1915||Zeppelin bombing||Zeppelin airships dropped bombs on Yarmouth.|
|Feb 1915||Dardenelles||The Russians appealed for help from Britain and France to beat off an attack by the Turkish. The British navy responded by attacking Turkish forts in the Dardenelles.|
|Apr - Aug 1915||Dardenelles/ Gallipoli||Despite the loss of several ships to mines, the British successfully landed a number of marines in the Gallipoli region of the Dardenelles. Unfortunately the success was not followed up and the mission was a failure.|
|after Feb 1915||Winston Churchill resigns||Winston Churchill, critical of the Dardenelles campaign, resigned his post as First Lord of the Admiralty. He rejoined the army as a battalion commander.|
|April 1915||Zeppelins||The use of airships by the Germans increased. Zeppelins began attacking London. They were also used for naval reconnaissance, to attack London and smaller balloons were used for reconnaissance along the Western Front. They were only stopped when the introduction of aeroplanes shot them down.|
|early 1916||Winston Churchill||Winston Churchill served in Belgium as lieutenant colonel of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.|
|April 1916||Romania enter the war||Romania joined the war on the side of the Allies. But within a few months was occupied by Germans and Austrians.|
|31 May 1916||Battle of Jutland||This was the only truly large-scale naval battle of the war. German forces, confined to port by a British naval blockade, came out in the hope of splitting the British fleet and destroying it ship by ship. However, the British admiral, Beatty, aware that the German tactics were the same as those used by Nelson at Trafalgar, sent a smaller force to lure the German's into the range of Admiral Jellicoe's main fleet. Although Beatty's idea worked, the exchange of fire was brief and the German's withdrew.|
|1 June 1916||Battle of Jutland||The British and German naval forces met again but the battle was inconclusive. The German ships did a great deal of damage to British ships before once again withdrawing and the British Admiral Jellicoe decided not to give chase.|
Although British losses were heavier than the German, the battle had alarmed both the Kaiser and the German Admiral Scheer and they decided to keep their fleet consigned to harbour for the remainder of the war.
|28 Nov 1916||First Aeroplane raid||The first German air raid on London took place. The Germans hoped that by making raids on London and the South East, the British Air Force would be forced into protecting the home front rather than attacking the German air force.|
|Dec 1916||Lloyd George Prime Minister||Lloyd George became Prime Minister of the war time coalition. His war cabinet, unlike that of his predecessor, met every day. However, there was considerable disagreement among the members of the Cabinet, especially between Lloyd George and his war secretary, Sir Douglas Haig. Lloyd George suspected Haig of squandering life needlessly and was suspicious of his demands for more men and freedom of action in the field.|
|21 Feb - Nov 1916||Battle of Verdun||The Germans mounted an attack on the French at Verdun designed to 'bleed the French dry'. Although the fighting continued for nine months, the battle was inconclusive. Casualties were enormous on both sides with the Germans losing 430,000 men and the French 540,000.|
|1 July - Nov 1916||Battle of the Somme||The battle was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German line which was supposed to destroy the barbed wire defences placed along the German line but only actually succeeded in making no mans land a mess of mud and craters. The five month long battle saw the deaths of 420,000 British soldiers (60,000 on the first day), 200,000 French soldiers and 500,000 German soldiers all for a total land gain of just 25 miles.|
|1917||New war commander||Lloyd George, who had never trusted his war minister's ability to direct the war, persuaded the Cabinet to appoint the French General Nivelle as supreme war commander over Haig's head. Haig was assured that the appointment was for one operation only and that if he felt the British army was being misused by the Frenchman he could appeal to the British government.|
|July - Nov 1917||W.front Passchendale||The operation commanded by the French General, Nivelle, went wrong and caused the loss of many French soldiers. Haig protested to the British government and advocated trying his own scheme for a breakthrough. At the resulting battle of Passchendale, Haig broke his promise to call off the battle if the first stage failed because he did not want to lose face with the government.|
|1917||Churchill Minister of Munitions||Following the heavy defeat at Passchendale, Lloyd George decided that he wanted Churchill in the Cabinet. Churchill was duly appointed Minister of Munitions.|
|1917||Reinforcements sent to Italy||The Italians had lost many men trying to hold the line between Italy and the Central Powers. British and French reinforcements were sent to hold the line.|
|early 1917||German U-boat campaign||In Germany, orders were given to step up the U-boat campaign. All allied or neutral ships were to be sunk on sight and in one month almost a million tons of shipping was sunk. Neutral countries became reluctant to ship goods to Britain and Lloyd George ordered all ships carrying provisions to Britain to be given a convoy.|
|6 April 1917||USA declares war on Germany||The United States of America declared war on Germany in response to the sinking, by German U boats, of US ships.|
|Nov 1917||W. Front Cambrai||The British took a large force of tanks across the barbed wire and machine gun posts at Cambrai.|
|Dec 1917||Treaty of Brest-Litovsk||Following the successful revolution by the Bolsheviks, the Russians signed an Armistice with Germany at Brest-Litovsk. The terms of the treaty were harsh: Russia had to surrender Poland, the Ukraine and other regions. They had to stop all Socialist propaganda directed at Germany and pay 300 million roubles for the repatriation of Russian prisoners.|
|April 1918||RAF formed||The Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force.|
|8 - 11 Aug 1918||Battle of Amiens||The British general, Haig, ordered the attack of the German sector at Amiens. At the same time the news came through that the allies had broken through from Salonika and forced Bulgaria to sue for peace.|
|mid Oct 1918||Allies recover France and Belgium||The allies had taken almost all of German-occupied France and part of Belgium.|
|30 Oct 1918||Armistice with Turkey||The allies had successfully pushed the Turkish army back and the Turks were forced to ask for an armistice. The terms of the armistice treaty allowed the allies access to the Dardenelles.|
|early Nov 1918||Hindenberg line collapsed||By the beginning of November the allies had pushed the Germans back beyond the Hindenberg line.|
|9 Nov 1918||Kaiser abdicated||Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated.|
|11 Nov 1918||Armistice signed||At 11 am, in the French town of Redonthes, the Armistice was signed bringing the war to an end.|
Causes of World War 1
The first world war began in August 1914. It was directly triggered by the assassination of the Austrian archduke, Franz Ferdinand and his wife, on 28th June 1914 by Bosnian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip.
This event was, however, simply the trigger that set off declarations of war. The actual causes of the war are more complicated and are still debated by historians today.
An alliance is an agreement made between two or more countries to give each other help if it is needed. When an alliance is signed, those countries become known as Allies.
A number of alliances had been signed by countries between the years 1879 and 1914. These were important because they meant that some countries had no option but to declare war if one of their allies. declared war first. (the table below reads clockwise from the top left picture)
The Dual Alliance
Germany and Austria-Hungary made an alliance to protect themselves from Russia
Austria-Hungary made an alliance with Serbia to stop Russia gaining control of Serbia
The Triple Alliance
Germany and Austria- Hungary made an alliance with Italy to stop Italy from taking sides with Russia
Triple Entente (no separate peace)
Britain, Russia and France agreed not to sign for peace separately.
Russia formed an alliance with France to protect herself against Germany and Austria-Hungary
This was made between Russia, France and Britain to counter the increasing threat from Germany.
This was an agreement between Britain and Russia
This was an agreement, but not a formal alliance, between France and Britain.
Imperialism is when a country takes over new lands or countries and makes them subject to their rule. By 1900 the British Empire extended over five continents and France had control of large areas of Africa. With the rise of industrialism countries needed new markets. The amount of lands 'owned' by Britain and France increased the rivalry with Germany who had entered the scramble to acquire colonies late and only had small areas of Africa. Note the contrast in the map below.
Militarism means that the army and military forces are given a high profile by the government. The growing European divide had led to an arms race between the main countries. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914 and there was fierce competition between Britain and Germany for mastery of the seas. The British had introduced the 'Dreadnought', an effective battleship, in 1906. The Germans soon followed suit introducing their own battleships. The German, Von Schlieffen also drew up a plan of action that involved attacking France through Belgium if Russia made an attack on Germany. The map below shows how the plan was to work.
Nationalism means being a strong supporter of the rights and interests of one's country. The Congress of Vienna, held after Napoleon's exile to Elba, aimed to sort out problems in Europe. Delegates from Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia (the winning allies) decided upon a new Europe that left both Germany and Italy as divided states. Strong nationalist elements led to the re-unification of Italy in 1861 and Germany in 1871. The settlement at the end of the Franco-Prussian war left France angry at the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and keen to regain their lost territory. Large areas of both Austria-Hungary and Serbia were home to differing nationalist groups, all of whom wanted freedom from the states in which they lived.
In 1904 Morocco had been given to France by Britain, but the Moroccans wanted their independence. In 1905, Germany announced her support for Moroccan independence. War was narrowly avoided by a conference which allowed France to retain possession of Morocco. However, in 1911, the Germans were again protesting against French possession of Morocco. Britain supported France and Germany was persuaded to back down for part of French Congo.
In 1908, Austria-Hungary took over the former Turkish province of Bosnia. This angered Serbians who felt the province should be theirs. Serbia threatened Austria-Hungary with war, Russia, allied to Serbia, mobilized its forces. Germany, allied to Austria-Hungary mobilised its forces and prepared to threaten Russia. War was avoided when Russia backed down. There was, however, war in the Balkans between 1911 and 1912 when the Balkan states drove Turkey out of the area. The states then fought each other over which area should belong to which state. Austria-Hungary then intervened and forced Serbia to give up some of its acquisitions. Tension between Serbia and Austria-Hungary was high.
A Closer Look at the Origins of World War 1
At first it all seemed very far away. The possibility of a Great War engulfing Europe had not become a reality since the terrifying days of the Napoleonic Wars. But it did not begin due to failure of diplomacy. The reasons for the beginning of World War One all start with a wrong turn taken on a road in Sarajevo.
On 28 June 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia. It was the couple's fourteenth wedding anniversary. They were utterly devoted; indeed it sometimes seemed Sophie was Ferdinand's only friend. Politically liberal and personally difficult, Ferdinand had married against the wishes of his uncle, Austria's emperor Franz Joseph. As a result, his children were removed from any right to succession, but he was still next in line to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
An empire it surely was, even if its welter of nationalities were only tenuously welded together. Ferdinand was an Austrian, skeptical of Hungarians, married to a Czech, and inclined to be indulgent with Croats and Serbs. His reputation for liberalism-in what was a tolerant, cosmopolitan, fatalistic, conservative-reactionary empire, which regarded itself, in the famous Viennese phrase, as being in a situation that was hopeless but not serious-came largely from his support for expanding the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire into a tripartite monarchy that would have given greater autonomy to the Slavs.
It was not a popular position. Austrian hardliners saw no reason for change, Hungarians feared it would lessen their influence, and Slavic nationalists did not want their people reconciled to Austrian rule; they wanted violence, bloodshed, and nationalist revolution. On 28 June 1914, one of their number-Gavrilo Princip, a tubercular student, an atheist in a famously Catholic if multireligious empire, and a member of the Black Hand, a Serbian terrorist movement-committed the murders that eventually created an independent Yugoslavia, all at the cost of a cataclysmic world war.
What started World War 1 began with one death. It ended with 17 million more dead.
ATTEMPTING TO HOLD THE EMPIRE TOGETHER
Austria-Hungary's statesmen knew just how vulnerable they were as a multinational empire. Avenging Franz Ferdinand's death-even if he was not much liked-was necessary to affirm the dual monarchy's staying power. Heirs to the throne simply could not be picked off by Slavic nationalists at will and without consequences.While the reaction throughout much of Europe was measured, shock mingling with the assumption that this was a local affair-there was always something new out of Austria-Hungary-Austria's foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, advocated “a final and fundamental reckoning with Serbia,” a terror-sponsoring state, the power behind the assassins. He was supported by the hawkish chief of the Austrian general staff, Count Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, who recognized the danger of Slavic nationalism if it were led by Serbia rather than contained within the Habsburg Empire.
If the the start of the war were limited to Serbia, the empire could fight it successfully. But of Europe's five great powers-Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain-Austria-Hungary was by far the weakest; it could make no pretense to dominate Europe; defending itself in the Balkans was challenge enough. Barely a quarter of its army was Austrian, another near quarter was Hungarian, and the rest, the majority, was a motley of Czechs, Italians, and Slavs whose devotion to the dual monarchy was open to question. Germany was Austria's necessary ally to keep the Russian bear from mauling the Austrian eagle-especially as the Russian bear made a pretense of looking on the Balkan states as her lost cubs. What the Russian bear wanted most of all was to splash in the warm water port of Constantinople, the gateway from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean, and her cubs could lead her there.
THE GERMAN BLUNDERBUSS
The Austrians took the position that one was either with the dual monarchy or with the terrorists. Germany was with the dual monarchy. But despite Prussian stereotypes to the contrary, turmoil in the Balkans potentially pitting Austria-Hungary against Russia had for decades made Germany the peacemaker of Central Europe. In the famous formulation of Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of the German Reich from 1871 to 1890, “The whole Eastern question”-by which he meant the Balkans-“is not worth the healthy bones of a Pomeranian musketeer.”
Germany was Europe's most powerful state. United only since 1871 (before that it had been a congeries of kingdoms, principalities, duchies, free cities, and confederations), Germany was an industrial superpower, with the second-largest manufacturing economy in the world (behind the United States), double the steel production of Britain, and world leadership in fields from applied chemistry to electrical engineering. Germany's industrious population was growing-to 65 million in 1913-casting an ominous shadow over the French, who, for all their reputation as lovers, were not having babies; France boasted a population of only 39 million.
The German education system was broad, deep, and effective, stamping out engineers, physicists, and highly trained specialists in every academic and technical field-including the profession of arms, where even the lowliest private was literate. So professional, well-trained, and highly educated was the German army-and so politically dominant was militaristic Prussia within Germany-that the Second Reich was really the kingdom of the German general staff.
But Bismarck knew how important it was for Germany, having forged itself through “blood and iron,” to reassure Europe that it was a “contented” power. His chief foreign policy goal was to isolate France and keep Germany allied with Austria and Russia. As Bismarck said, “I am holding two powerful heraldic beasts by their collars, and am keeping them apart for two reasons: first of all, lest they should tear each other to pieces; and secondly, lest they should come to an understanding at our expense.”
All this changed with the arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who assumed the throne in 1888 and dismissed Bismarck two years later. The Kaiser did not follow Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy admonition about speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Instead, he spoke like an exploding blunderbuss while insisting on having the biggest stick possible and waving it furiously. He practiced diplomatic brinksmanship, thrusting himself forward, asserting German rights-and then almost invariably backing down, grumbling about the lack of respect granted to his empire.
He twisted the lion's tail when he could. About a third of the world's Muslim population lived under the Union Jack, so the Kaiser made a trip to Damascus in 1898 and declared himself a Teutonic Saladin: “The Ottoman sultan and the 300 million Muslims who revere him as their spiritual leader should know that the German Emperor is their friend forever.” German railroad engineers backed his boast by helping to build the Berlin-to-Baghdad railway and the Hijaz Railway from Damascus to Medina-neither of which was completed before the war, but both of which Britain saw as potential threats to India.
Germany's diplomatic sabre-rattling had inspired some odd alliances. Since 1892 anti-clerical republican France had been allied with Orthodox czarist Russia. Russia was notoriously weak-her armed forces had been humiliated in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905-but the German general staff could not discount her size (170 million people) or her potential to cause trouble in the Balkans. In the west, Britain's John Bull became the unlikely escort of the French Marianne in 1904 with the Entente Cordiale. On its face the entente simply resolved imperial issues, but de facto it made Britain an ally of France. It was followed in 1912 by an Anglo-French naval agreement committing the Royal Navy to defend France's Atlantic coast. In 1907, Britain even agreed to an entente with Russia, which had long been regarded as the great imperial threat to British India. In British eyes the railroad-building, battleship-constructing, Boer-supporting, philo-Islamic German Kaiser had become the greater threat; and the Russians were equally worried that Germany's increasingly friendly relationship with the Ottoman Turks could block their dream of acquiring Constantinople.
AUSTRIA DECLARES A SMALL WAR; FRANCE, RUSSIA, AND GERMANY MAKE IT A BIGGER ONE
On 23 July, Austria delivered an ultimatum to Serbia. The assassination of the Archduke had put an end to Austrian tolerance. Austria demanded that Serbia ban all propaganda directed against the Habsburg Empire, shut down the nationalist organizations that fanned it, allow Austrian officials to help suppress anti-imperial groups in Serbia, sack Serbian officers as specified by Austria, and allow imperial investigators to bring the terrorists who had conspired against the Archduke to justice. The Serbians were given forty-eight hours to respond. To the Austrians' surprise, the Serbians agreed to almost everything, quibbling only at allowing Austrian police onto Serbian territory, which the Serbs considered an unacceptable violation of their sovereignty. Even the Kaiser thought Serbia's response was a “capitulation of the most humiliating character. Now that Serbia has given in, all grounds for war have disappeared.” For the Austrians the point had been to establish the pretext for war, not to get Serbian agreement, and Austria decided Serbia's response was insufficient. On 28 July, the Habsburg Empire declared war on Serbia.
The Austrians' declaration of war put the cat among the pigeons, or the Teutons among the Slavs. But the first major power to go on full mobilization for what could be a wider war was not Austria or Germany, it was Russia. Russia's foreign minister Sergei Sazonov saw the Austrian ultimatum as a starting pistol-“c'est la guerre européene!”-that provided Russia cover (and allies) for a strategic lunge at Constantinople.
Encouraging Russian belligerence was France, which had its own territorial designs if Russia could tie down German armies on an eastern front. For more than forty years, the French had wanted to regain the territory of Alsace-Lorraine in southwestern Germany. The French knew they could not regain the territory by diplomacy or by fighting Germany on their own. The French could never instigate a war; they could only hope for one in which they had surrounded Germany with enemies and strengthened themselves with allies. And now they had done just that. With the Entente Cordiale, the French believed they had seduced Britain from her previous policy of “splendid isolation” from the Continent. The “Triple Entente” had put the Russian steamroller in the East on the side of la belle France, and in the West procured her the tacit support of the world's largest navy, backed by the resources of the world's largest empire.
While Europe's diplomats and statesmen talked peace, more than a few wanted war. All the major belligerents in the First World War, with the exception of the British Empire and the United States, entered the war thinking they had something to gain. In one sense, what started World War I was opportunism. But all had made fatal miscalculations. Austria, in its desire to punish the Serbs, had misjudged the possibility of a greater war. The Russians, with their eyes on seizing Constantinople, failed to recognize how vulnerable their society was to the shock of a European conflagration. French revanchists misjudged the price of glory.
Germany military planning was for a two-front war. The Schlieffen Plan, drawn up by Field Marshal Alfred Graf von Schlieffen in 1905-and implemented in 1914 by General Helmuth von Moltke the Younger, chief of the German general staff-was to knock out France in six weeks with one enormous blow and then turn Germany's full strength against the lumbering Russians. Schlieffen polished his plan until the end of his life in 1913. From a purely military point of view, it was a plan of genius, and had it been implemented as designed it might very well have achieved its aims. But the Achilles' heel of the plan was its amorality. It utterly disregarded the rights of neutral Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg-rights that Germany was pledged to uphold. While to the German general staff these rights were insignificant, they became the direct cause of British intervention in the war.
On 1 August, the Germans declared war on Russia; two days later they declared war on France;