The Start of WWI:
This major war was predominantly called the World War, or the Great
War, from its occurrence right up until after the start of the Second
World War (WWII)
on the 1st September 1939; after that it generally became known as the
First World War or World War I (WWI); WWI was centred in Europe and
began on the 28th July 1914 and lasted, 4 years and 4 months, until
it ended on the 11th November 1918.
WWI involved all the world's great powers, which were grouped into two
opposing alliances, the Allies, which was based on the Triple Entente
of the United Kingdom, France and Russia and the Central Powers, which
originally centred around the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary
and Italy; although Italy ended up fighting for the Allies.
It is estimated that more than 70 million military personnel, including
60 million Europeans, were mobilised in one of the largest wars in history;
more than 9 million combatants were killed, largely because of great
technological advances in Weaponry without
the corresponding advances in defence and mobility; it was the sixth
deadliest conflict in world history, subsequently paving the way for
various political changes such as revolutions in the nations involved.
Long-term causes of the war included the
imperialistic foreign policies of the great powers of Europe, including
the German Empire, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire,
the Russian Empire, the British Empire, France, and Italy.
The war began on the 28th June 1914, which was the same day as, and
because of, the assassination, by a Yugoslav nationalist, of Archduke
Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary;
the assassination resulted in an Habsburg ultimatum against the Kingdom
of Serbia; several alliances which had formed over the previous decades
were invoked and within weeks the major powers were at war and the conflict
soon spread, via their colonies, around the world.
The main fighting began on the 28th July 1914, when Austria-Hungary
declared war on, and invaded, Serbia; this seemingly small conflict
between two countries soon spread however, and Germany, Russia, Great
Britain and France were all drawn into the war, largely because they
were involved in treaties that obligated them to defend certain other
nations; the Serbian invasion was followed by the German invasion of
Belgium, Luxembourg and France, and a Russian attack against Germany;
this resulted in western and eastern fronts opening up along the borders
of Germany and Austria-Hungary.
Within weeks of WWI starting, after the
German march on Paris was brought to a halt, the Western Front settled
into a static battle of attrition with a trench line that changed little
In 1914 the British Army had a reported strength of
710,000 men including reserves, of which around 80,000 were regular
troops ready for war.
But to keep the trenches manned required vast amounts
of British men and resources; at first these men were obtained through
eager volunteers, in fact around 2.67 million men joined as Volunteers.
But when the voluteer force dried up and the war effort
still needed more men Conscription was introduced, forcing many more
men into the army; records show that around 2.77 million men were conscripted;
though a few of these may well have been volunteers.
By the end of WWI almost 1 in 4 of the total male population
of Great Britain and Ireland had joined, over 5 million men.
The men of Alexandra, Princess of Wales's Own Yorkshire
Regiment, also known as the Green Howards, fought in WWI; this Regiment
alone raised 24 Battalions, made up of 65,000 men; of these 9,000 died
and 24,000 were wounded.
Conscription took most of the able bodied men, leaving
a gaping hole in Britain's industrial workforce, which could only be
replaced with Working Women.
In the East, the Russian army successfully fought against the Austria-Hungarian forces but was forced back by the German army; additional fronts opened up after the Ottoman Empire joined the war in 1914, Italy and Bulgaria in 1915 and Romania in 1916.
The Western and Eastern Fronts:
The first month of combat consisted mainly of bold attacks and rapid
troop movements on both fronts; in the west, Germany attacked Belgium,
which brought Britain into the war and then Germany attacked France;
in the east, Russia attacked both Germany and Austria-Hungary and in
the south, Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia; following the Battle of
the Marne (from the 5th to the 9th September 1914), the western front
became entrenched in central France and remained that way for the rest
of the war; the fronts in the east also gradually locked into place.
The Ottoman Empire:
Late in 1914, the Ottoman Empire was brought into the fray as well,
after Germany tricked Russia into thinking that Turkey had attacked
it; as a result, much of 1915 was dominated by Allied actions against
the Ottomans in the Mediterranean; Britain and France launched an attack
on the Dardanelles, which was followed up by a British invasion of the
Gallipoli Peninsula; Britain also launched a separate campaign against
the Turks in Mesopotamia; although the British had some successes in
Mesopotamia, the Gallipoli campaign and the attacks on the Dardanelles
resulted in British defeats.
Around 1916 and 1917, the war was dominated by continued Trench
warfare in both the east and the west; soldiers fought from dug-in positions,
striking at each other with chemical weapons, heavy artillery, machine
guns, and Planes; though soldiers
died by the millions in brutal conditions, neither side had any substantive
success or gained any advantage.
The United States’ Entrance and Russia’s Exit:
Despite the stalemate on both fronts in Europe, two important developments
in the war occurred in 1917; in early April, the United States, angered
by attacks upon its ships in the Atlantic, declared war on Germany and
US forces entered the trenches enabling the Allies to drive back the
German armies in a series of successful offensives; and in March the
Russian Empire collapsed followed by the Bolshevik Revolution in November,
which prompted Russia to pull out of the war.
Although both sides launched renewed offensives in 1918 in an all-or-nothing
effort to win the war, both efforts failed; the fighting between exhausted,
demoralised troops continued to plod along until the Germans lost a
number of individual battles and very gradually began to fall back.
A deadly outbreak of influenza, meanwhile, took heavy tolls on soldiers
of both sides; eventually, the governments of both Germany and Austria-Hungary
began to lose control as both countries experienced multiple mutinies
from within their military structures; Germany, which had its own trouble
with revolutionaries at this point, agreed to a cease-fire on the 11th
November 1918, later known as Armistice
The End of the War and Armistice:
The war ended, in the late fall of 1918, with a victory for the Allies,
after the member countries of the Central Powers signed armistice agreements
one by one; Germany was the last to sign, signing its armistice on the
11th November 1918; four major imperial powers, the German, Russian,
Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, had been militarily and politically
defeated and ceased to exist; the successor states of the former two
lost a great amount of territory, while the latter two were dismantled
entirely; the map of central Europe was redrawn into several smaller
The League of Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another such
conflict; although, the European nationalism spawned by WWI, the breakup
of empires, the repercussions of Germany's defeat and problems with
the Treaty of Versailles are generally agreed to be factors that contributed
Germany, under the Treaty of Versailles, was severely punished with
hefty economic reparations, territorial losses and strict limits on
its rights to develop militarily; many historians now believe that the
Allies were excessive in their punishment of Germany and that the harsh
Treaty of Versailles actually planted the seeds of World War II, rather
than foster peace.
The treaty’s declaration that Germany was entirely to blame for the
war was a blatant untruth that humiliated the German people; furthermore,
the treaty imposed steep war reparations payments on Germany, which
were meant to force the country to bear the financial burden of the
Although Germany ended up paying only a small percentage of the reparations
it was supposed to make, it was already stretched financially thin by
the war and the additional economic burden caused enormous resentment;
ultimately, extremist groups, such as the Nazi Party, were able to exploit
this humiliation and resentment and take political control of the country
in the decades that followed.