World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. From its start until the approach of World War II, the First World War was called the World War or the Great War and, after that, the First World War or World War. At the time, it was also sometimes called “the war to end war” or “the war to end all wars” due to its then-unparalleled scale and devastation. During the interwar period (1918-1939), the war was most often called the World War and the Great War in English-speaking countries.
The term “First World War” was first used in September 1914 by German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who claimed that “there is no doubt that the course and character of the feared ‘European War’ will become the first world war in the full sense of the word.” After the onset of the Second World War in 1939, the terms World War I or the First World War became standard, with British and Canadian historians favoring the First World War and Americans World War I.
More than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, were mobilized in one of the world’s largest wars. Over nine million combatants and seven million civilians died in the war (including the victims of several genocides). It was a global war that reached beyond the countries of Europe into the Balkans and South Africa. This a war fought in trenches, in deserts, in the mountains, at sea, and by air. The vast distances and, in many cases, the difficult terrain created significant challenges for both sides regarding effective communication, transporting supplies and troops, and simply protecting their interests. In all, there were over 50 different cultures involved in the war. Britain and France deployed troops from every continent and mobilized their colonial empires for the war efforts. The French deployed African soldiers from West and North Africa. Britain rallied South African forces and soldiers from their colonies in India.
The Canadian army included Eskimo and Aboriginal soldiers, and New Zealand’s army had the indigenous people of the Maori. There were also soldiers from Australia, Spain, Algiers, Scotland, and Ireland. Behind the war was an unprecedented workforce of numerous ethnic origins, including people from Egypt, Fiji, Vietnam, China, and Madagascar. The largest ethnic group, the Chinese Labour Corps, remained in France and Belgium as late as 1919 to help bury the dead and clean up the battlefields.
The war drew in all the world’s great economic powers, assembled in two opposing alliances: the Allies (based on the Triple Entente of the Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) versus the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. However, Italy was a member of the Triple Alliance alongside Germany and Austria-Hungary. It did not join the Central Powers, as Austria-Hungary had taken the offensive against the terms of the alliance. These alliances were reorganized and expanded as more nations entered the war, such as Italy, Japan, and the United States, joined the Allies. In contrast, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers.
WWI was the first major war in over 40 years. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. Both sides had amassed new weapons and technology that had never been used before in combat. It was a new war where soldiers were still learning their weapons. It was a war with many “firsts,” including the first use of tanks and trucks, airships and planes, submarines, wireless communication (telegraph), machine guns, long-range artillery, exploding shells (designed to do as much damage as possible with flying shrapnel), flame throwers and poisonous gas.
Those who fought in WWI believed they were fighting for noble reasons such as defense against aggression, the love of one’s country, and glory. Coming into the war, they were fueled by the ideals of nationalism, liberalism, democracy, and religious freedom.
Causes of the First World War
The topic of the causes of the World War I is one of the most studied in all of world history. The war, which began in central Europe in July 1914, included many intertwined factors, such as the conflicts and antagonisms of the four decades leading up to the war. Militarism, alliances, imperialism, and nationalism played significant roles in the conflict. However, the immediate origin of the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Empire, and his wife. He was assassinated on 28th June 1914 by nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian Black Hand freedom fighter.
Long Term Causes
There were several long-term causes for the First World War that historians have categorized into four different groups. These were imperialism, Militarism, nationalism, and alliances.
Some scholars have attributed the start of the imperialism war. It meant that the nations greater than others felt the right to rule over them. Countries such as the United Kingdom and France accumulated great wealth in the late 19th century through their control of trade in foreign resources, markets, territories, and people. Other empires such as Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Russia all hoped to do so to reap the economic advantage. Their frustrated ambitions and British policies of strategic exclusion had already created tensions. Also, the limits of natural resources in many European nations began slowly altering the trade balance. It makes national industries seek new territories rich in natural resources.
Commercial interests contributed substantially to Anglo-German rivalry during the scramble for tropical Africa. That was the scene of the sharpest conflict between particular German and British commercial interests. There were two partitions of Africa. One involved the actual imposition of political boundaries across the continent during the last quarter of the nineteenth century; the other, which commenced in the mid-nineteenth century, consisted of the so-called ‘business’ partition. In southern Africa, the last separation followed rapidly upon the discoveries of diamonds and gold in 1867 and 1886. An integral part of this second partition was the expansion of British capital interests, primarily the British South Africa Company and mining companies such as De Beers. After 1886 the Witwatersrand goldfields prompted feverish activity among European and British capitalists. It soon felt in Whitehall that German commercial penetration, in particular, threatened Britain’s continued economic and political hegemony south of the Limpopo. Amid the expanding web of German business on the Rand. The most contentious operations were those of the German-financed N.Z.A.S.M. or Netherlands South African Railway Company which possessed a railway monopoly in the Transvaal.
In 1914, there were no outstanding colonial conflicts, Africa essentially having been claimed fully, apart from Ethiopia, for several years. However, the competitive mentality and a fear of “being left behind” in the competition for the world’s resources may have played a role in the decision to begin the conflict.
Rivalries among the great powers were exacerbated, starting in the 1880s, by the scramble for colonies that brought much of Africa and Asia under European rule in the following quarter-century. It also created great Anglo-French and Anglo-Russian tensions and crises that prevented 4 British alliances with either until the early twentieth century.
Allied to this growing Militarism was an intense nationalism in most of e Great powers Nationalism implied that your country is better than others. It is a crucial point because it caused hatred, rivalry, and arrogance among countries, making them feel superior towards other nations. People worldwide were eager to let the rest of the world know their country’s strength and importance. Many people thought their country was better than others and that they’d be able to win a war easily if there was one. For example, Weltpolitik, or the desire for world power status, was very popular in Germany. The French desire for revenge over Alsace and Lorraine was powerful. In Britain, Imperialism and support for the Empire were very evident. This nationalism meant little resistance to the war in these countries. Many welcomed what it was felt would be a short victorious war. For example, cheering crowds in Berlin, Vienna, and Paris greeted the outbreak of war. It also brought fascism to a nation and promoted patriotic people to fight for their country.
Militarism was another factor in the war. All of the Great powers, military spending increased considerably in the years before the war. Each country raced to see who could build the greatest armies and navies. If one country were to have too big an army or navy, the other countries would get scared and start making more to defend themselves. The armies of both France and Germany had more than doubled between 1870 and 1914. The rivalry between the powers led to a building up of weapons and increased distrust. An example of a person obsessed with Militarism was Kaiser Wilhelm, the monarch of Germany during that time. Kaiser Wilhelm had always been jealous of Britain’s navy, and he spent a lot of money to build his own when he became king. Each country was ready for war, and since the cost of a fleet of ships and ammunition was so high, each country was expecting to use it.
With the launch of H.I.M.S. Dreadnought in 1906, the British Empire expanded on its significant advantage over its German rival. The arms race between Britain and Germany eventually extended to the rest of Europe, with all the major powers devoting their industrial base to producing the equipment and weapons necessary for a pan-European conflict. Between 1908 and 1913, military spending in the European wars increased by 50%. All except Britain had conscription. Over 85% of men of military age in France and 50% in Germany had served in the army or navy. France had the highest proportion of its population in the military. The colonial rivalry had led to a naval arms race between Britain and Germany. It seriously worsened relations between both countries. The British-German dispute also led to greater maritime cooperation between Britain and France.
As David Stevenson has put it, “A self-reinforcing cycle of high military preparedness…was an essential element in the conjuncture that to disaster… The armaments race was a necessary precondition for the outbreak of hostilities.” David Herrmann goes further, arguing that the fear that “windows of opportunity for victorious wars” were closing, “the arms race did precipitate the First World War.”
System of Alliances
The fourth factor that pulled the European countries to war against one another was the system of alliances. Before 1914, Europe’s leading powers were divided into two armed camps by alliances. Some of these were –
Treaty of London, 1839, about the neutrality of Belgium
German-Austrian treaty (1879) or Dual Alliance
Italy joined Germany and Austria in 1882
Franco-Russian Alliance (1894)
The “Entente Cordiale” between Britain and France (1904) left the northern coast of France undefended, and the separate “entente” between Britain and Russia (1907) formed the Triple Entente.
In sum, there were two main alliances:
(i) The Triple Alliance, which included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy (1882) and
(ii) the Triple Entente involved France, Russia, and Great Britain (1907).
Although these alliances were defensive, they meant that any conflict between one country in each alliance was bound to involve the other countries. It brought the nations to war because the others were obliged to follow when one country got pulled into the war. So when Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia, the countries toppled one another into war, otherwise known as the “Domino effect.”
The Crises Before 1914
During the decades before the war, four successive international crises marked the evolution toward a widespread conflict. These crises exposed the powers’ differences and reinforced their hostility. Two took place in Morocco, where Germany and France clashed; the other two in the Balkans, where Russia and Austria-Hungary fought to replace Turkey as the hegemonic power.
First Moroccan Crisis
In 1905 Kaiser Wilhelm I visited the Moroccan port of Tangier and denounced French influence in Morocco. The move was designed to test the strength of the recent Anglo-French entente. He proclaimed German opposition to the French colonization of Morocco. This challenge precipitated the convening of an international conference in Algeciras (1906). At this conference, Germany was isolated, and France had clear British support. The result was to bring France and Britain closer together. Edward VII called the German actions “the most mischievous and uncalled for the event which the German Emperor has been engaged in since he came to the throne.”
Second Moroccan Crisis
This crisis erupted when the Germans sent the gunboat “Panther” to the Moroccan port of Agadir to protect German citizens. Germany claimed that the French had ignored the terms of the Algeciras Conference. It provoked a major war scare in Britain until the Germans agreed to leave Morocco to the French in return for rights in the Congo. Many Germans felt that they had been humiliated and that their government had backed down. Although eventually, there was a diplomatic agreement that ended the crisis, the Agadir incident highlighted the growing Franco-German confrontation.
Annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Two Balkan Wars
Austria had administered the two Turkish provinces since the Congress of Berlin. Austria annexed Bosnia after tricking Russia during negotiations between their respective foreign ministers. The action outraged Serbia as there was a large Serbian population in Bosnia. There was a crisis among the Great powers, bringing Europe to the brink of war. Russia bowed to German pressure when they supported Austria, and they agreed to the annexation. However, she was determined not to be humiliated again.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire lost land in the Balkans to the people who lived there. The great powers were also interested in extending their influence in the region. Austrian and Russian relations were poor over their rivalry in the Balkans. Both hoped to expand there at the expense of the Ottoman Empire. Another important factor was the growth of Slav nationalism among the people who lived there, especially in Serbia.
Russia encouraged Slav nationalism, while Austria worried that this nationalism could undermine her Empire. Russia supported Serbia which was very bitter at the annexation of Bosnia, and saw herself as Serbia’s protector.
In 1912 and 1913, the First Balkan War was fought between the Balkan League and the fracturing Ottoman Empire. The resulting Treaty of London further shrank the Ottoman Empire, creating an independent Albanian state while enlarging the territorial holdings of Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Greece. When Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece on 16 June 1913, it lost most of Macedonia to Serbia and Greece and Southern Dobruja to Romania in the 33-day Second Balkan War, further destabilizing the region. The Great Powers could contain these Balkan conflicts, but the next would spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Two successive Balkan wars that involved Turkey, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Bulgaria concluded with the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913. The wars caused a shift in the situation in that area. Turkey was reduced in the Balkans to a small region around Istanbul. Serbia (Russia’s ally and defender of the rights of the Slavs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire) was consolidated as the leading state in the region. Austria-Hungary was upset by the strengthening of Serbia. It concluded that only a preventive war would prevent Serbia from leading a general uprising of the Slavic people in the Habsburg Empire, who would be encouraged by the tremendous Slavic power. Russia eventually was determined to intervene when Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia.
As a result of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), Serbia had doubled in size, and there were growing demands for the union of south Slavs (Yugoslavism) under the leadership of Serbia. Austria had a large south Slav population in Slovenia, Croatia, Banat, and Bosnia provinces. Austria was very alarmed at the growing power of Serbia. She felt Serbia could weaken her Empire.
As one of the victors in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Serbia expanded its territory at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest. Regarding the expansion of Serbia as an unacceptable increase in the power of an unfriendly state and to weaken Serbia, the Austrian government threatened war in the autumn of 1912 if Serbs were to acquire a port from the Turks. Austria appealed for German support, only to be rebuffed at first.
In May 1914, Serbian politics were polarized between two factions, one headed by Prime Minister Nikola Pasiae and the other by the radical nationalist Chief of Military Intelligence, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, known by his codename Apis. That month, due to Colonel Dimitrigjevic’s intrigues, King Peter dismissed Pasiae’s government. The Russian Minister in Belgrade intervened to’ have Pasiae’s government restored. Pasiae, though he often talked tough in public, knew that Serbia was near bankrupt and, having suffered heavy casualties in the Balkan Wars and in the suppression of a December 1913 Albanian revolt in Kosovo, needed peace. Since Russia also favored peace in the Balkans, from the Russian viewpoint, it was desirable to keep Pasiae in power. During this political crisis, politically powerful members of the Serbian military armed and trained three Bosnian students as assassins and sent them into Austria-Hungary.
The more immediate cause for the war was tensions over territory in the Balkans. Austria-Hungary competed with Serbia and Russia for territory and influence in the region. They pulled the rest of the Great Powers into the conflict through their various alliances and treaties. It started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Empire. He was assassinated on 28th June 1914 by nineteen-year-old Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian Black Hand freedom fighter.
Austria considered the murder of the heir to the throne an open Serbian attack on the existence of the Dual Monarchy because if Francis Joseph died, Austria would be left without an heir. Although she could not find evidence that the Serbian government was connected with the assassination, Austria consciously exploited the occasion to destroy Serbia as a state to end the Serbian threat to the existence of the Dual Monarchy forever. A war with Serbia might lead to a war with Russia. Thus Austria wanted to be assured of German support.
Germany decided to support Austria because he regarded Austria as the only ally of Germany and believed that the Russian Czar would not come to help Serbia in a war involving the death of a future monarch. On July 6, Germany assured Austria that should there be an Austria-Serbian war, Germany would stand by their side and give her unlimited support as an ally. It was called the Blank Cheque.
Having received wholehearted support from Germany, Austria sent a request to Serbia in jelly 1914 that was to be answered within 48 hours. It included the following demands: i) Serbia was to suppress all anti-Austrian publications, societies, and propaganda, ii) Serbia was to dismiss all anti-Austrian officials objected to by Austria. iii) Austrian police ad officials were to enter Serbia and take part in the Serbian police force to carry out the suppression of anti-Austrian activities and investigations concerning the Sarajevo murders.
These demands infringed on Serbian sovereignty. Austria expected that Serbia would reject it, thus giving her the excuse to declare war. Serbia accepted the first two demands but rejected the third. Serbia suggested submitting it for arbitration by the Hague Tribunal. William II was satisfied with Serbia’s reply and did not feel the need to punish Serbia with a war. He declared a brilliant diplomatic triumph, no excuse for war.
However, Austria was still determined to destroy Serbia. After declaring the Serbian reply unsatisfactory, the Austrian government declared war on July 28. The bombardment of Belgrade began on July 29. Russia learned of the ultimatum on July 24. On July 26, the Czar reassured the Serbian crown prince that “Russia will in no case be indifferent to the fate of Serbia.” Russia certainly could not bear humiliation from Germany anymore. If she failed to defend Serbia, Russia could no longer set foot in the Balkans as the leader of the Slav nations. The Russian Czar was probably encouraged by the French to take a firm stand against Germany, for France had learned of the Schlieffen War Plan. France urged Russia to mobilize for fear of an immediate German attack. After the bombardment of Belgrade on July 30, the Czar was persuaded by his ministers and Chief of staff to order total mobilization.
Germany feared that she would face attacks from both Russia and France. Germany demanded Russia stop her mobilization at once. Russia refused. According to the Schlieffen Plan, Germany had to attack France at once. Germany sent an ultimatum to France, demanding she was neutral. After receiving a French reply that France would side with Russia, Germany lost no time and declared war on France on August 31.
On August 4, according to the Schlieffen Plan, the German troops crossed the Belgian frontier. On the same day, the British government declared war on Germany. There were two reasons which prompted Britain to take action at once. Firstly, the German invasion of Belgium aroused British opinion against Germany because all great powers had guaranteed the country a neutral state in 1839 in the Treaty of London. The German invasion had treated the treaty as a scrap of paper and committed a moral crime. Secondly, no British government would tolerate the domination of Belgium by any powerful continental nation because it directly endangered the security of Britain. (Belgium was separated from Britain by a narrow channel only).
Phases of War
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Impact of War
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