Updated: Oct 23, 2019


By 1914 Europe no longer expected any wars and had seened peace for almost a 100 year since the Congress of Vienna. Brief conflicts like the Crimean and the Franco-Prussian wars were around but no large scale wars.


Nationalism was growing in the 1800s leading to disunity as well as unity. The unity were the France and the British which had been united for centuries. Disunity, however, were the ethnic groups like Austria-Hungary and Ottoman empire who still fought for independence. Tensions between Germany and France grew because of France lost the Franco-Prussian war thus seeing revenge and so was Germany. Italy had become unified in 1870 however Austria-Hungary controlled some territory thus ethnic minorities wanted to free himself.

Tensions were also growing outside Europe in the early 1900s… Many wars were started in Africa caused by European nations. An example would be the Moroccan war in 1905 with North-Africa, France and Germany contributing. In 1905 France used riots to send in troops to protect Europeans, thus creating a second Moroccan crisis 1911. Furthermore Germany sent a warship to the port of Agadir leading to more tensions which was calmed by British diplomats. However anti-German feeling grew in France and Britain. Other tension spots were in Iran were both Britain and Russia competing for Mesopotamia. Worth considering was the fact that the Spheres of Influence caused tensions in Asia.

Military Buildup

Nations focused more on militarism:

  • 300% increase of military spending in Europe, between 1870-1914

  • In the 1800s maintained “a tower power standard” = stronger than two nations combined

  • In 1898 Germany developed its military program, 1900-1914 warships tripled=the second strongest naval power in the world. Thus britain competed Germany.

  • France, 1913, increased their military service to two-three years.

  • Between 1900-1914 Russia doubled their spending on military.

The Triple Alliance

To be able to support the military of one nation, alliances between several nations was needed in case of war. Otto von Bismarck created the Triple Alliance in the late 1800s including Italy, Germany and Austria-Hungary which he first called the “Three Emperors League” until 1882 when Italy joined thus getting the name the Triple Alliance. Why Italy was because they could not stop French influence in Tunisia.

Wilhelm II wanted to change Germany's foreign policy after he made Otto von Bismarck to resign in 1890. Soon after, the insurance treaty with Russia broke, leading to Russia immediately becoming France’s ally in fear of Germany and Austria-Hungary. In 1894 France and Russia signed a military agreement claiming that if either France or Russia were attacked by the Triple Alliance the other nation would come to their rescue.

Great Britain relied on its independence and did not seek for any alliances, but because of the German power growing and ruined the British imperialism in Africa during the Boer war. 1904, Britain signed an “Entente cordiale” (a friendly understanding agreement), meaning they did not depend on each other nor made any promises, with only colonial issues settled. However, France was happy due to them having an agreement with both Russia and Britain by 1907 called the Triple entente.

Between 1897-1907 tension across the continent of Europe grew, due to fear of the risk caused by the alliances that a small incident could cause a war. If one nation would be threatened the other nations in its alliance would also be affected.

The Balkan were the Powder Keg of Europe

Keep in mind :

  • By the 1800’s, the Slavs had established the independent nations of Serbia and Montenegro and by 1829, Greek had become independent on its own.

  • In the 1900’s the Ottoman Empire ruled over a small part of the Balkans.

The Congress of Berlin in 1789 had given Austria-Hungary the right to administer the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and by 1908 Austria-Hungary chose to incorporate the two nations to its territory, which agitated Serbia considering Serbia wanted to take over Bosnia and Herzegovina itself because of the thousand slavs living their. Russia also disliked Austria-Hungary’s action, but they did not attack because they were too weak, thus Serbia not attacking as well.

First Balkan war erupted in 1912, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece attacked the Ottoman Empire and taking all of its remaining European possessions. The Second Balkan war occurred in 1913 and this time Bulgaria attacked its own allies, Serbia and Greece, but this war did not succeed.

Assassination in Sarajevo

28th of June 1914, the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were shot in the capital of Bosnia, Sarajevo. The killer was the nineteen year old Gavrilo Princip who was involved in the Serbian nationalist organization, The black hand, which aimed at uniting Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia. The Serbian government was not involved in this murder, however some officials knew about this but were sympathetic towards it. However Serbia was not in general happy over the fact that the archduke of Austria-Hungary paid a visit to a country they annexed illegally, “Death to the Habsburg dynasty”- Serbian extremists.

Thus, Francis Joseph, the Austria-Hungary emperor created an alliance with William the II of Germany for protections against any following attacks from Serbia.

Diplomatic Crisis

July 23, Austria-Hungary demanded an answer in 48 hours from Serbia considering an Ultimatum, meaning :

  • Serbia would have to stop all anti-Austrian activated and eliminate anti-Austrian officials.

  • Austria-Hungary would have the right to send officials in regards to the investigation of the archduke’s murder.

Serbia had no choice but to accept the Ultimatum, except the last one because it would violate Serbia’s independence. Austria-Hungary did not appreciate Serbia’s answer, thus starting to mobilize, which Germany was against doing. Austria-Hungary’s mobilized army threatened Russia and France, thus Russia prepared to mobilize to be able to support Serbia and France getting prepared to protect Russia.

Great Britain tried to stop this crisis through suggesting a great-power conference between Austria-Hungary and Serbia followed by Austria-Hungary and Germany rejecting. Austria-Hungary believed that their national honor was at stake and they did not want it to turn into an international debate.

Italy declared its neutrality but soon 20 other nations like Japan and United States joined the allies.

28th of July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia. July 29, the Russian czar Nicholas II ordered a general mobilization of his army followed up by Germany threatening Russia’s mobilization with war. Russia did not respond to Germany, which led to war between Germany and Russia by august 1. Germany also declared war against France by august 3, because they knew that France would sooner or later support Russia.

For the first time was Germany at war with two fronts at the same time, Russia in the west and France in the east, thus Germany came up with the Schlieffen Plan, which meant that Germany would have to defeat France before Russia would be completely ready for war.

By august 3, Germany had bypassed the heavily defended eastern border of France and invaded northern border of France through Belgium, thus bringing Britain into the war. Britain declared war against Germany by august 4, because Britain had promised Belgian its neutrality, which was now broken. What had been started in June 28 with a local incident, led to five great powers of Europe at war with one another.

Stalemate on the Western Front

By the early september of 1914, Germany’s hope to win fast was over by Britain in the battle of the Marne. In the autumn of 1914, France and Britain were at a series of battles with Germany called “Race to the sea”. In Somme (France), the Allies gained 125 square miles of land with the cost of 600,000 dead and wounded and in Ypres the British stopped a German attack. In November 1914 both sides came to a realization that neither side could hit a final blow to the other, thus soldiers on both sided decided to dig a series of trenched protected by mines and barbed wires. The war in the western front only preserved the stalemate with only heavy losses on both sides.

For months, the soldiers would be living in the muddy trenched. Some trenched were shelters and others were tunnels for headquarters and first aid stations. Between the front-line trenches were the “no man's land”, meaning a wasteland of barbed wires and mines. The front-line troops would be ordered “over the top”, meaning to race across the no man’s land and attack the other side, which mostly led to a lot of loss and little gain of land. An example would be the 11-month Battle of Verdun in 1916 with Germans losing 330,000 men by trying to overrun French lines, “They shall not pass”- said the crying French defenders. In 1916 alone 2 million soldiers died and it is said that the Germans lost as much as the France did.

New weapons

The many kills were due to the new weapons, such as guns, poison gases and tanks. Early in the 1915, the Germans started using the poison gas followed up with the allies using it afterwards. At first the poison gas was not smart to use, considering the wind could blow it back on to the soldiers, but later masks were used. Tanks were first introduced by the British in 1916 that could move on barbed wires and broken lands. Tanks were first very slow and broke down fast but scared the German soldiers a lot, thus Germany starting to use tanks as well. Aircrafts were also first used for observing the enemy troop movements, but later Germany used zeppelins, gas filled balloons and later machine guns and pilots, thus war moving to the sky. This “dogfight” was indeed an extraordinary development but had little effect on the course of the war. For the first time, the submarine was used in a large scale and Germany was deadly with it. The British navy blocked the North Sea coast of Germany and Germany was no match to the British navy, thus German submarines attacking through the Atlantic sea the British merchant ships that carried important supplies to the British Isles. The British responded through adding warships that protected the merchant ships from any other attacks.

The Eastern Front

The Eastern Front battles were at a larger scale in contrast to the Western Front battles, considering the Eastern Front going all the way from the Baltic sea to the Black sea. Russians and Serbs battled Germans, Austrians and Turks. Russia was always known as the largest reserves of manpower in Europe, but almost always its armies lacked supplies. The soldiers were told to take weapons from the dead, considering half the army did not have any. An example would be august 1914, in Tannenberg where Germany defeated two Russian armies in east Prussia and Russia never threatened Germany again. Russians were first more successful against Austrian troops in Galicia, but in 1915 when German-Austrian attacks were combined, Russia backed off. In 1915, Bulgaria joined the Central power and with Germany’s help, Bulgaria overran Serbia. In similarity to the west, the east had equal amount of kills and wounded soldiers. However, in contrast to the west, the east had some results. In mid-1916 Russia assaulted half a million Austrian prisoners from Ukraine, but on the other hand the Russians lost a million of their men trying to hold their line, thus failing to advance farther.

Revolution in Russia

The many many bad news were sent back home to Russia, with losses and wounded soldiers telling horribles stories as well. The bad leadership and food shortage led to a riot in 1917, leading to the fall of czars Nicholas II. A temporary leader and government was set and Russia's allies hoped that this would strengthen Russia to hold off Germany in the in the eastern front. But many soldiers left the army and returned to their villages. An official reported in October 1917, “An immense, desperate, and weary crowd of men united by their common desire for peace”.

The treaty of Brest-Litovsk (collapse in the Eastern Front)

Vladimir Lenin took advantage of the hatred the people had towards the Provisional Government by leading radical revolutions and promising peace to the people if he would win the power, thus winning in November 1917. Lenin negotiated a peace treaty with Germany called Brest-Litovsk signed in march 1918, with Russia losing 25% of its land and population, but the government was willing to pay this cost for peace. Russia's withdrawal from the war caused tension among its allies as well as helped Germany now then shift its resources to the west.

With the continues wars and slaughters, the governments involved in the war had to convince the people to believe in the justice of their cause and threw all their resources for victory. The Allies tries to win over the Central power by attacking from several fronts and overseas.

Fighting on other Fronts

A new front was opened as Italy joined the Allies in 1915, and declared war on Austria-Hungary, and Germany later on, because the Allied and Central Powers did not want to fight only in France and Russia. Italy was promised land in Austria as they signed a secret treaty with the Allies, and that was important for the them due to many Italians living in Austria. In 1917 British and French troops had to help the Italians as they could not handle the Austro-German forces.

By taking Istanbul the British would improve their links with Russia and free the Balkans from the occupation by the Central Powers but because they meet Turkish resistance the British failed with their attempt. However it went good for the Allies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The Turks lost land to the Arabs and in Asia Japan had to face the Sphere of Influence of Germany in China and the Germans territory in the Pacific Ocean.

On the Home Front

Land, everywhere that the war affected, were damaged or destroyed due to WWI being a total war. The demands for soldiers and material obviously grew as the war went on, which lead to the point where Governments had to force men to join the army and in Germany there was a system for civilian labor. For example the Governments also had to plan how much the factories in the country should produce and how high/low the limits on wages should be. This lead to less food, money, etc. in the homes as well as women had to start to work, in similarity to the beginning of the Industrialization. Common works for women at this time was as bus drivers or jobs in offices and weapon factories.

Furthermore it was encouraged to use propaganda as to spread ideas to many people. The propaganda played on feelings and the belief of making the enemy look bad, it was a way of manipulating. As an example the British government censored newspaper articles.

The United States Enters the War

Both sides had strong propaganda campaigns at the US and when the war started in August 1914, President Woodrow Wilson claimed American neutrality urging the Americans to be “Impartial in thoughts as well as in action”. Americans did not belieb the war affecting them so much until the allies dragged them in later on partially because of the British Propaganda which portrayed German soldiers as barbarians torturing the occupied Belgium's. However, the German submarine warfare played a bigger role in bringing US into the war. In May 1915, the Germans torpedoed (sunk with a torpedoed) an American tanker, a week later the British passenger liner Lusitania and over 1,000 died on Lusitania including 128 Americans. Germany feared more submarine attacks would bring US into the war and therefore limited its usage for a time. In December 1916, the Germans broke the stalemate and isolated as well as starved the British to submission. Germany also declared the policy of unrestricted Submarine warfare and threatened any submarines near enemy coast, while they knew this could lead to US entering the war.

Final Offensives

The Allies made a series of offensives on the western front by 1917, spring and summer 50,000 American troops came to Europe every month, cheering the already fighting soldiers up. By this time Germany was suffering and by 1918 they faced the western front and were forced back with their decreased morale leading to deserting soldiers. On the other hand it did no progress for the other Central Powers either. Austria-Hungary was breaking down as their southern front was defeated and Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary declared independence. Germany was all alone by November 1918, with the defeat of The Ottoman Empire and the surrender of Bulgaria to the Allies.

German leaders attempt to end the fighting by an armistice but then a revolt against the government occurred leading to the transmission of Germany into a republic and the abdication of William II. Furtheron the Great War ended as the Allies and Germany signed an armistice agreement. What was left had to be united and saved, due to all the damage caused by the war.

The Peace Settlements

President Wilson made many to believe that the peace would bring justice which they had to believe to reach some hope as they realized all the death caused by the war. 10 million men had been killed, and 20 million wounded, making WWI the bloodiest of it´s time. Also it had cost about 350 billion dollar as well as it lead to a terrible flu epidemic.

Wilson´s Fourteen Points

Wilson went to the Palace of Versaille (close to Paris) , as the first American president to visit Europe, where a peace settlement was going to be made during a peace conference held by the victorious Allies. In the eyes of the people he was the one bringing hope with both his help during the war and by his Fourteen Points which he wanted to achieve a postwar settlement with. These points were a plan for peace, a plan for future cooperations without tensions such as the tensions that caused WWI and he did actually finish them a year before the war ended.They was accepted by the Allies at the Peace Conference, even though the Allies were a bit impatient about Wilson and his ideas.

Crosscurrents of the Peace Conference

The Central powers could not attend the Peace Conference as it was for the Victorious. At the Conference representatives from the Allies attended (Woodrow Wilson, USA, David Lloyd George, Britain, Georges Clemenceau, France and Vittorio Orlando, Italy) , exempt from Russia who was turned apart by revolutions. The representatives were not united under Wilson's ideas about not seeking revenge and the proposal of a league of nations, they wanted to punish the Germans by reparations. Ineed of being considered was the great losts of the countries including destroyed land and deaths making the allies in the spirit of taking revenge, but as Wilson not gave in they reached a compromise after a couple of mounts.

The Peace Treaties

Five different treaties were made: for Germany, Austria, Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria. The Versailles Treaty with Germany was the most controversial as it included not only one compromise among the Big Four and it finally claimed Germany as responsible for the war. By paying for the war, it made Germany bitter against the Versailles Treaty. Germany's colonies were taken, for example Britain and France were given Germany's colonies in Africa, and Germany's army was limited.

The other settlements changed the borders in Europe which the Central Powers had to sign.

  • Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia was created in eastern Europe

  • Poland was recreated (not since 1795)

  • Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia came to be independent

  • The Ottoman Empire was broken up

  • Greece got control of Aegean islands

But Italy was not happy about the settlements and as Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria had to pay reparations they were unhappy as well. Britain wanted madtes in Iraq, Transjordan and Palestine and France in Lebanon and Syria.

Problems of the Peace

Because the peace involved several million of people it faced difficulties. This caused people to feel angry and disappointed due to compromises that not were manageable. Many people felt betrayed due to the unfairness who followed the peace settlements.

For example, Germany was really angry about them being put as responsible and due to all the losses they had to face and Austria was limit as a nation with bad possibilities for their agriculture and industry. Furthermore the new established nations in Eastern Europe had to face problems when they tried to establish democratic governments.

The Victorious felt uncertain and disappointed about the settlements as well. For example France was scared that Germany would rebuild their army and as Russia had been excluded from the Peace Conference they felt betrayed. Wilson faced a refusing Senate towards the Versailles Treaty as he returned home after the Paris Peace Conference. The American people and the Congress did not want to be involved in further world affairs and therefor the Senate rejected the League of Nations.

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