World War I

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See also Causes of World War I
As was traditional in Prussia, a guards officer announced the start of mobilization in front of the Berlin armory (Zeughaus). Shortly after 4 p.m. on 31 July 1914, 2nd Lieutenant Max von Viebahn announced in front of the armory:

“Today the message from the Imperial German ambassador came from St. Petersburg that the general mobilization of the Russian army (de) and fleet had been ordered. Thereupon His Majesty the Kaiser ordered a 'state of imminent danger of war'. Based on Article 68 of the Imperial Constitution, His Majesty the Kaiser subsequently declared the Reich territory excluding Bavaria to be in a state of war. The same order is issued for Bavaria.”

At the beginning of the war, around 3.5 million soldiers from the Central Powers faced more than 5.7 million men from the allied Entente powers.
Austrian troops marching out of Pilsen for the Serbian Front July 1914.

World War I (also known as the First World War or The Great War) was a large scale, fratricidal military conflict between 1914 and 1918 in which millions of people died[1]. The opposing sides were the Allied Entente Powers, which ultimately included Serbia, Montenegro, the Russian Empire, France, Belgium, the British Empire, Japan, the United States (from 2 April 1917) and China (from Aug 1917). Also, Italy (23 May 1915) and Romania (22 August, 1916) both broke their treaties with the Central Powers and joined the Allies.[2]

Opposing them were the Central Powers, which included the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Serbia was soon completely over-run by Austria-Hungary, and Montenegro sued for an armistice in 1916. Russia was forced to accept defeat and withdrew from the war after the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917, the Peace Treaty being signed at Brest-Litovsk in March the following year, followed by final Protocols in August.[3]

The fighting that took place along the Western Front occurred along a system of trenches, breastworks, and fortifications separated by an area known as no man's land. These stretched 475 miles (more than 600 kilometres) and defined the war for many. On the Eastern Front, the vast eastern plains and limited Russian rail network prevented a trench warfare stalemate, though the scale of the conflict was just as large as on the Western Front. The Middle-Eastern Fronts and the Italian Front also saw heavy fighting, while hostilities also occurred at sea, and for the first time, in the air. The Great War saw the first use of aircraft carriers in combat, with HMS Furious launching Sopwith Camels in a successful raid against the Zeppelin hangars at Tondern in July 1918.

The German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (for just over 8 months in 1916-17) Arthur Zimmermann, desperate to get Russia out of the war, helped to send Vladimir Lenin and other Jewish Bolsheviks into Russia on the infamous sealed train. Meanwhile the Zionists blackmailed the British Government in obtaining vital American bank war loans in return for being given a so-called Jewish People's Homeland in Palestine in the event of the Ottoman Empire's defeat.

At the end of the war the victorious Allies dismembered the three ancient empires: the Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, with the Russians also losing provinces. Germany lost its colonial empire, Austria-Hungary its seaboard, and new artificial states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia emerged on their territories, along with the resurrection of both Poland and Lithuania and the establishment of the independent states of Finland, Estonia, and Latvia. The cost of waging the war caused ructions in the British Empire (mainly in India) and left northern France devastated for several years.

The Great War marked the end of the old world order which had existed since at least the Napoleonic Wars, and the unjust Peace Treaties of 1919 were crucial factors in the outbreak of World War II.

Aerial combat between German Halberstadt CL.II of the Fliegertruppe and French Spads


See Causes of World War I

Ethnic and Political Rivalries

Anti-German poster from the British "Anti-German Union"

A Balkan war between Serbia and Austria-Hungary was considered by some inevitable, as the Pan-Slav movement, which was motivated by ethnic and religious loyalties, and a rivalry with Austria dating back to at least the Crimean War, grew and became more aggressive. The rise of ethnic nationalism, particularly the 'Greater Serbia' movement, where anti-Austrian sentiment was perhaps most fervent, fuelled matters in this region. The increasing Serbian nationalist sentiment also coincided with the decline of the Ottoman Empire

After defeating the Turks, Austria-Hungary had occupied the former Ottoman province of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had a large Serb minority population, in 1878. It was subsequently formally annexed as part of Austria-Hungary in 1908. Despite the model administration given to the two provinces, they were open to destabilisation by neighbouring Serbia. In 1903 the pro-Austrian Serbian ruling dynasty, the Obrenovics, were brutally murdered in a putsch by Serbian Officers, and the pro-Russian Karadjordjevic family were installed in their place. The latter were far more robust in pursuing a 'Greater Serbia' expansionist policy, and encouraged closer ties with Russia, which supported the Pan-Slav movement.[4]

A myriad of other geopolitical motivations existed elsewhere as well, for example France's loss of Alsace and Lorraine, which they had occupied for 300 years, in the Franco-Prussian War, helped create a sentiment of irredentist revanchism in that country.

Balance of Power

One of the goals of the foreign policies of the Great Powers in the pre-war years was to maintain the so-called 'Balance of Power' in Europe. This evolved into an elaborate network of secret and public alliances and agreements. For example, after the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), Britain was in favour of a strong Germany, against its traditional enemy, France. After Germany began to increase it strength, which included a 'place in the sun' with colonies, plus increasing the size of its navy, the attitude changed. France, smarting from its humiliating defeat by Germany in 1871, found an ally in Russia, who was pursing a Pan-Slav policy opposing Austria-Hungary. The latter Empire had concluded a natural mutual defence treaty with their Teutonic brethren in Germany.

When The Great War broke out, these treaties determined who entered the war and on which side. Britain had no treaties with Russia. However Britain's Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, had negotiated the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907, and found itself increasingly supporting Russian interests. Egged on by a Russophile Ambassador, Arthur Nicolson, in St Petersburg from 1906-1910, the British Foreign Office increasingly saw the Balkans through Russian eyes. During the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina crisis in 1908, Sir Edward Grey supported the Russian point of view wholeheartedly.[5] Britain only had "agreements" with France, and formally entered the war because of the violation of Belgian neutrality, of which she (with Prussia!) was a guarantor. Italy had a treaty with both Austria-Hungary and Germany, yet refused to enter the war with them, later changing sides to the Allies who had secretly promised them Austrian territory. Romania also failed to honour its treaty with the Central Powers and instead joined the Entente who had offered them territories at their neighbours' expense.

Perhaps the most significant treaty of all was the defensive pact between Germany and Austria-Hungary, which Germany in 1909 reconfirmed by declaring that Germany was bound to stand with Austria-Hungary even if it had started a war.

Arms Race

The so-called naval race between Britain and Germany was intensified by the 1906 launch of HMS Dreadnought a revolutionary vessel whose size and power, notably the positions of its heaviest guns, rendered previous battleship designs partially obsolete. Britain at this time had the world's largest navy. Alfred Thayer Mahan's thesis was that a strong navy was vital to great nation status, and this appears to have been shared by the European great powers, all of whom had naval expansion plans in action.

Following Russia's defeat at the hands of Japan and with the rapid advances in armaments, particularly warships and their design, the Great Powers began modernising all aspects of their military capabilities. American historian David G Herrmann, and other post-war historians viewed this shipbuilding rivalry as part of a general movement in the direction of war. Count Max Montgelas had already demolished this as myth, and historian Niall Ferguson argued Britain's clear ability to maintain an overall naval lead signified this was not a factor in the oncoming conflict.

The cost of rearmament was felt by all the Great Powers in Europe. The total arms spending by Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Italy increased by 50% between 1908 and 1913.


The thesis adopted by many is that the plans for mobilisation of Russia, Austria-Hungary, France and Germany (in that order), automatically escalated the conflict. It was a general maxim that "mobilisation means war".

Left-wing controversial historian Fritz Fischer, who took the 1919 Allied line arguing Germany was soley responsible for the war[6], emphasized what he saw as the inherently aggressive nature of the Schlieffen Plan, which was part of a two-front strategy. However, almost all European Empires and countries had common borders with another, and all High Commands, since Napoleonic times, had extensive strategic plans of action in place if a war was declared. Germany would therefore have to eliminate one major opponent quickly, before taking on the other. Germany had drawn up the Schlieffen plan as a fast moving strategy based on Clausewitz's theory that attack can be the best defence. Germany did not want to risk all the terrain problems they encountered during the Franco-Prussian war,[7] thus giving France time to properly mobilise. The plan therefore called for passage through Belgium and cripple the French Army by pre-empting its organisation. After the attack, the German Army would then rush east by railroad and quickly destroy what was expected to be slowly moving Russian forces.

France had concluded a military alliance with Russia on 17 August 1892 (not approved by the Tsar Alexander III until December 1893) coming into effect in 1894.[8] In addition France spent hundreds of millions of Francs on a series of supposedly impregnable fortresses (i.e: Verdun), and by subsidising Belgium's construction of similar fortresses (i.e: Leige) to complement their own. Their principle line of movement was to be into the disputed provinces of Alsace and Lorraine which had been restored to Germany in 1871, and where the only fortifications were old (i.e: Metz).

France also concluded the Franco-Russian Naval Agreement on 16 July 1912.

Russia, following their defeat at the hands of the Japanese in 1904-5, lost interest in that part of the Far-East and reverted her attention to the Balkans where her ultimate goals were consolidation of the Slav states, and the Straits. With the French as long-standing partners in their conspiracy against the Teutonic Empires[9], Russia foresaw a mobilisation of its armies against both Austria-Hungary and Germany, a huge front, and in this respect France financed vast loans to the Imperial Russian Government for a string of new railways all heading towards the German and Austro-Hungarian frontiers.

All these plans created an atmosphere in which speed was one of the determining factors for victory. Elaborate timetables were prepared; once mobilizations had begun, there was little or no possibility of turning back. Also, the plans of France, Russia, & Germany (but not Austria-Hungary) were based upon some form of offensive, in clear conflict with the improvements of defensive firepower and entrenchment.

Anti-Imperial Propaganda

American anti-German propaganda poster degrading the Germans as "Huns"

It has been argued that aristocrats and military élites had too much power in Empires such as Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary, and that war was a consequence of their desire for armed forces and disdain for democracy. This theme figured prominently in anti-German sentiment propaganda.[10] Consequently, supporters of this theory called for the abdication of rulers such as Kaiser Wilhelm II, as well as an end to aristocracy and militarism in general. This platform provided some justification for the entry of the USA into the war when the Russian Empire surrendered in 1917. American President Wilson hoped the League of Nations and disarmament would secure a lasting peace. He also acknowledged that variations of militarism, in his opinion, existed within the British and French Empires.

However this was a propaganda myth as Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and Italy were by this time all democracies with representative parliaments. The Ottoman, alone of the Empires, remained autocratic.

Opposition & Support for the War

Some Jewish political activists, both of the Bolshevik and Zionist variety, favored the war seeing it as an opportunity for the destruction and breakup of empires.

Vladimir Lenin asserted that imperialism was responsible for the war. He drew upon the economic theories of Karl Marx and English economist John A. Hobson, who predicted that unlimited competition for expanding markets would lead to a global conflict. Cordell Hull, American Secretary of State under Franklin Roosevelt and a liberal free-trader, believed that tariff barriers were the root cause of both World War I and World War II. In 1944, he helped design the Bretton Woods Agreements to reduce trade barriers and eliminate what he saw as the cause of the conflicts.

The trades unions and socialist movements, controlled by Communists and their fellow-travellers, had long voiced their opposition to a war, which they argued, meant only that workers would kill other workers in the interest of capitalism. Once war was declared, however, the vast majority of socialists and trade unions backed their own countries. The exceptions were the Bolsheviks en bloc, the Italian Socialist Party, and individual agitators such as Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and their followers in Germany. There were also small anti-war groups in Britain and France.

Other opposition came from conscientious objectors - some socialist, some pacifist, some religious - who refused to fight including Bertrand Russell. In Britain 16,000 people asked for conscientious objector status. Many suffered terms in prison. Even after the war, in Britain many job advertisements were marked "No conscientious objectors need apply". Many other countries also had similar laws like Britain and also jailed those who spoke out against the conflict.

July Crisis and Declarations of War

Archduke Franz Ferdinand
Main article: Causes of World War I

The Assassination

On the 28 June 1914, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb[11] failed student, assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, in Sarajevo. Princip was a fanatical member of the Black Hand, a group whose aims included (article 1) "the union of all Serbs" and the organisation of revolutionary activity "in all lands inhabited by Serbs".[12] The assassination in Sarajevo set into motion a series of fast-moving events that eventually escalated into full-scale war. The Austro-Hungarian government, a great European power, were outraged by the assassination of the heir-apparent to their throne and his consort, and served an ultimatum on Serbia on July 23, with a number of clear demands.[13] Two days later Serbia accepted most but not all,[14] and mobilised. This resulted in partial mobilisation against Serbia by the Empire.


It is a generally accepted maxim that mobilisation is a de facto declaration of war.

The German Chancellor had been made aware from intelligence reports that the French Ambassador in St Petersburg had advised Paris by telegram at 11.35 p.m. on July 20, 1914 that "the Russian Government had decided to take the first steps towards general mobilisation secretly." The German Chancellor therefore telegraphed the Russian Foreign Minister, Sazanov, the following day: "We would emphasise that the problem, in our view, is soley for Austria-Hungary and Serbia to solve, and one which it should be the earnest endeavour of the [Great] Powers to confine to the immediate participants."[15]

On July 23, 1914 Austria-Hungary served an ultimatum upon the Serbian government with numerous demands, compliance with which would mean an acceptable peace. Austria insisted it had no wish to compromise Serbian sovereignty.[16] Serbia rejected the ultimatum[17][18] and, relying on the 'blank cheque' guaranteed support by Russia[19], ordered full mobilisation of its army [against Austria-Hungary] at 3 p.m., on July 24, which was followed in turn by Austria’s partial mobilisation of eight Army Corps [20] against Serbia[21] on the evening of the following day.

"The Pan-Slav Russian Press became exceptionally excited, calling for immediate mobilisation."[22] The Russian Ministerial Council, presided over by the Tsar, decided upon partial mobilisation (against Austria-Hungary) of thirteen Army Corps on July 24/5. These measures were conveyed to Paris, where the Russian Ambassador, Paléologue, stated that the Russian General Staff said "war had been a certainty since the 24th July" when France had assured Russia that she "would fulfil all the obligations of her military alliance". Russia ordered a "Period of Preparation for War" for the whole Empire on July 26, on which day Sir George Buchanan, British Ambassador in St Petersburg, telegraphed London: "Russia being sure of support by France will face all the risks of war." General Joffe later wrote that he and the French War Office were "delighted" that their covert war measures had so far been carried out without a hitch: July 27.

On July 29, Russia further mobilised by Imperial Ukase all the military districts on the Austrian frontier and generally against Austria-Hungary and Germany.[23] Count Pourtales, German Ambassador at St. Petersburg telegraphed Berlin on July 29th: "All [Russian] troops recalled from manouevres, a part of them have departed for the Austrian Border."[24]

Germany advised London that if a Russian offensive against Austria occurred, Germany would be obliged to respect her defence treaty obligations as Russia could engage 55 infantry divisions whereas Austria-Hungary could only raise 22 because of the reserves in place for action against Serbia.

On the same day France announced partial mobilisation, and the German General Staff minuted that they were feeling uneasy in a Memorandum to their Imperial Chancellor, that Russia already has twelve Army Corps on the German frontier and were making great "military dispositions". Further reports came from Paris, one of which states that "the French General Staff were surprised at Germany taking so few protective measures."

German negotiations to avoid war

Meanwhile the German Government appeared to still think that matters could be dealt with without a war[25] and continued negotiations and attempts at mediation between the great powers.

Kaiser Wilhelm II, upon learning of the Austrian partial mobilisation against Serbia on the 24th, immediately telegraphed Tsar Nicholas II emphasising that Austria had only partially mobilised, and only against Serbia.[26] At 9.19 p.m. on July 27 the German War Ministry telegraphed the German Military Attaché in St Petersburg: "No military measures are contemplated here. But we note that the (Russian) frontier guard is already mobilised, and that steps are being taken to close the frontier. Therefore request constant watch to be kept on Russian military measures and report." The following day Emperor Wilhelm II sent a note at 10 a.m., to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, von Jagow, saying "There is no reason for war." Von Moltke records that this Note was communicated at once to the Chief of the German General Staff. On the same day the German Government, through Herr von Schoen, declared "Germany was ready to work with the other powers for the preservation of peace."

The Imperial German Chancellor made urgent "let us decrease the tension" appeals to Paris, over French preparations for war, and to St Petersburg, on the afternoon of the 29th, which were met with evasive responses. The Chancellor asked the British Ambassador to convey to London Germany’s regret that the Austrian Government had rejected the British proposal for negotiations over Serbia which Berlin had supported. Kaiser Wilhelm II had meanwhile telegraphed the Austrian Emperor on the same day: "I could not see my way to refuse the Tsar's personal request that I should undertake to mediate with a view to averting a general conflagration and maintaining peace, and I have submitted proposals to your government through my Ambassador yesterday and today."

In a further telegram on July 29th to Tsar Nicholas, Kaiser Wilhelm said: "I cannot consider Austria's action against Serbia an 'ignoble' war but only a just punitive expedition. That it is not more is proved by the assurance given to your Government by the Vienna Cabinet. I think, therefore, that given this guarantee it will be possible for you [Russia] to remain a spectator in the Austro-Serbian conflict without driving the world into one of the most terrible of wars. I am ready to promote a direct understanding between you and Vienna which is possible and desireable. But Russian mobilisation against Austria might 'set the house in flames' and would place me in a most difficult position."[27]

On the same day the Imperial Chancellor told the British Ambassador in Berlin that "We are continuing our efforts toward the maintenance of peace. However the result of a Russian attack on Austria and the obligations of our alliance with her would result in a conflagration. In this respect we hope that England would remain neutral." He added that Germany did not want a war with France.[28]

On July 31 the German Ambassador Count Pourtales was received by Russia's Tsar Nicholas when he "begged the Tsar, if it were possible in any way, to check or to revoke Russian mobilisation", to which the Tsar replied "that for technical reasons that was no longer possible.[29]

Austria declares war on Serbia

With the Serbian rejection[30] of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, that empire declared war on Serbia, "in order to compel the Serbian Government to comply with the demands in full and establish guarantees for future good behaviour", at about 7 pm on July 28, 1914.[31] The Serbs immediately appealed to Russia "the protector of Serbia" to "severely punish" Austria-Hungary.[32]


In response to the Serbian request for assistance, Russian Foreign Minister Sazanov, now urged his government of the "necessity of general mobilisation without further delay". (Notwithstanding that partial mobilisations had been under way in Russia some time before this). Ukases were then drawn up and issued the same night for general mobilisation.[33]

The Russian Ambassador at Vienna, Nikolai Nikolaievich Schebeko, called upon the German Ambassador there, Heinrich von Tschirschky (who had been Germany's Foreign Secretary until Oct 1907), at about 7 p.m. on July 29th, when he stated that "in his opinion a localisation of the Austro-Serbian conflict appeared to be impossible; that Russia felt herself to be threatened in her status as a Great Power as the result of Austria's actions against Serbia."[34]

At 3 p.m. on July 30, the Russian Ambassador to Paris, Count Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky’s response to the calls for further negotiations were: "we cannot comply with Germany’s wishes, and have no alternative but to hasten with our military preparations and assume war is inevitable." That evening the Austrians were still only considering partial mobilisation for their Russian frontier, their Government having telegraphed St.Petersburg that "Austria really wishes to reach an understanding with Russia". However the next day, following receipt of military intelligence reports, Austria-Hungary announced full mobilisation "as a purely defensive measure". On the same day Montenegro mobilised against Austria-Hungary.[35]

On July 31, after the Russian General Staff had informed the Tsar that partial mobilization was logistically impossible, a full mobilization of army and fleets was ordered throughout Russia.[36] The German Ambassador at St.Petersburg telegraphed the German Foreign Office that his Military Attaché reported vast troop movements and trains carrying them West, which had commenced as early as the 29th July.

The Austrian Emperor Franz-Joseph telegraphed the German Emperor on July 31 to say that he had reluctantly ordered the mobilisation of his entire armed forces, including the navy, following the Russian full mobilisation against his Empire.[37] The Germans, who had continued to hope for peace, were now being inundated with military intelligence reports of those preparing to attack them, and declared on July 31 a state of "threatening danger of war", a pre-mobilisation step.[38]

The German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, von Jagow, subsequently served upon the Russian Ambassador at Berlin an extensive note for the Russian Government: "While Germany, striving since the commencement of the crisis to find a peaceful solution, was still continuing upon orders from her August Sovereign, its role of mediator between Austria-Hungary and Russia, you have proceeded to the full mobilisation of all your land and sea forces. Obviously the security of the German Empire is now menaced by this extreme measure which had not been preceded in Germany in similar measure. Our request to His Majesty the Emperor (of Russia) to stop this mobilisation for war (ultimatum of 31st) having been declined, His Majesty the Emperor, my August Sovereign, declares that he accepts the war which is forced upon him."

The full German Mobilisation Order was given by Erich von Falkenhayn (de), Minister of War, at 5 p.m. on August 2, Germany being the last of the four Great Continental Powers to mobilise.

The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Berlin, Count Szogyény, telegraphed the Austrian Foreign Minister, Count Berchtold, the same day to advise that "Russian troops have crossed the German border near Schwiddin, south-east of Bialla. Russia has, therefore, attacked Germany. Germany consequently considers herself to be in a state of war with Russia. The Russian Ambassador was handed his passports this forenoon and will probably leave today".[39]


As for France, the Russian Military attaché in Paris reported by telegram to St. Petersburg at 1 a.m. on August 1st: "The French War Minister informed me, in great spirits, that his Government are firmly determined on war, and begged me to endorse the hope of the French General Staff that all our efforts will be directed against Germany, and that Austria will be treated as a quantité négligeable.” France ordered full mobilisation the same day, although French cavalry regiments had taken up war positions on the German frontier on the 31st and further mounted troops were brought by train early the next morning, before official mobilisation. The German Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, von Jagow, urgently telegraphed his Ambassador at Paris: "We want and contemplate no hostile action against France, despite their mobilisation. We are speaking with [England's] Sir Edward Grey and shall keep you informed".

Meanwhile, President Poincare advised the Russian Ambassador, Isvolsky, at 11 pm, that because of France’s Constitution it was necessary to obtain the consent of parliament before war could be declared, and at least two days would be required to summon a meeting of the Chamber. He said, therefore, that it would be better if the declaration of war were made by Germany. Given that France had mobilised against Germany, and already sent large formations to the frontier, a declaration of War between them was now purely a matter of form, as in three days French detachments had crossed the frontiers about 56 times. In addition French airmen had dropped bombs on the railway at Karlsruhe and Nuremberg on August 2, and these violations were mentioned in the German Declaration of War against France by telegram at 6 p.m. on August 3.


On July 29, German State Secretary von Jago formally communicated Germany's proposals in case of war to the German Ambassador in Brussels for submission to the Royal Belgian Government.[40] The Ambassador replied to the Foreign Office in Berlin on August 3 confirming he had served the German Government's further note to the Belgian Government of August 2, delivered at 8 p.m., which had stated: "according to reliable information French forces intend to march on the Meuse via Givet and Namur, and that Belgium, in spite of the best intentions, would not be in a position to repulse, without assistance, any advance of French troops. The German Government would consider itself compelled to anticipate this attack and to violate Belgian territory. The German Government urged the Royal Belgian Government to assist the friendly passage of German troops to meet the French and that if the Belgians refused and put up a fight they will be considered an enemy. We emphasise that Germany had no hostile intentions of any sort towards Belgium. Germany would evacuate immediately peace was declared and that they would offer Belgium generous compensation." This was declined by the Belgian government. (Gustav Stresemann later stated in a speech to the Reichstag, 14 Dec 1925: "When Frederick The Great began the first Silesian War, he marched through Saxony, and some historians have questioned whether that was not a breach of neutrality. But before he put his troops in motion, all the Courts of Europe had received his Memorandum on his right of transit: not his excuses for his breach of neutrality."[41])

On August 3rd at 11 am mobilisation orders were issued in Great Britain, as France had falsely reported that Belgian neutrality had been violated. Belgium's neutrality was subsequently violated, at 6 a.m. on August 4th, by the German advance through it heading towards Paris, and this brought the British Empire into the war as a 'defender' of Belgium. With this, five of the six European powers were now involved in the largest continental European conflict since the Napoleonic Wars.

The Germans ask for Peace in 1916

In his 1961 speech at the Willard Hotel, Benjamin Freedman pointed out that in 1916 Germany sent peace approaches to Great Britain[42]. These were published in the newspapers throughout the world. Examples are The Brisbane Courier, 5 October, 1916, p.7, the Chicago Tribune, 13 Dec, 1916, and The Adelaide Advertiser, 14 December 1916, pps:7,9.


The German Note says:--"The most terrific war in history, which has been raging for 2½ years, has been a catastrophe, which 2,000 years of civilisation was unable to prevent. The spiritual and material progress, which was the pride of Empire, has been threatened with ruin. Germany and her Allies have given proof of their unconquerable strength. The continuance of the war will not break our resistance. We were obliged to take up arms to defend the cause of justice, our liberty, and our national evolution. We had no aim to shatter or annihilate our adversaries. Despite our consciousness of military and economic strength, and our readiness to continue the war, we propose to conclude a peace which will guarantee the existence of our honor, liberty, and evolution. If our enemies refuse to accept reconciliation, Germany and her Allies are resolved to continue the war to a victorious end. We solemnly decline, to take the responsibility before humanity and history. If our enemies refuse to stop the slaughter in order to continue their plans of conquest and annihilation every German heart will burn with sacred wrath. God will be our judge. We will proceed fearless and unashamed. We are ready for fighting, and we are ready for peace."

In the Chicago Daily Tribune (December 13, 1916), it was also revealed that Germany sent peace offers to United States in order to end World War 1, and Germany even asked for the Pope's aid to join with Neutral Powers for European peace. But the newspaper also reveals that it was Great Britain who rejected Germany's peace terms [44]. In a subsequent Chicago Tribune (December 20) Great Britain again publicly announced their rejection of Germany's peace terms through British Prime Minister Lloyd George with the headline "War Must Go On: Lloyd-George to Germany"[45].

It should also be noted that Wilson declared war against Germany by lying to Americans that the Germans were the aggressors, when in fact that it was Great Britain who rejected the peace terms of Germany and her Allies in order to continue the war as mentioned above [46]. In a much later speech, in 1961, the well-known businessman Benjamin Freedman revealed that Great Britain drove the United States into war against Germany in order to promise Palestine to Zionists via the infamous Balfour Declaration.[47].

Chronology of the fighting

Opening moves

French cavalry August 1914.

On the Western Front, the Schlieffen Plan had called for the right flank of the German advance to pass through Belgium and to the west of Paris. Hostilities began on 2 August 1914 with the occupation of Luxembourg by German troops, pre-empting the planned French attack.

The right wing of the German army then advanced on the 3rd/4th August in Belgium. Despite the unexpectedly strong resistance, the fortress of Liège (Lüttich) was taken. According to the French deployment plan, which was also very offensively oriented, the French concentrated their attacks on the German Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

Initially, the Germans had great success in the Battle of the Frontiers (14 to 24 August). The first Western offensives of the French armies were repelled in the Battle of Mulhouse (19 August) and in the battles in the Vosges and Lorraine (20 to 22 August). However, the capacity and low speed of horse-drawn transport hampered the German supply train, allowing French and British forces to finally halt the German advance east of Paris at the First Battle of the Marne (September 5 until September 12), thereby denying Germany a quick victory and forcing them to fight a protracted war on two European fronts. The German army had fought its way into good defensive positions inside France and had permanently incapacitated 230,000 French and British troops, more than it had lost itself.

German troops in German East Africa.

African Campaigns

Some of the first clashes of the war involved British, French and German colonial forces in the German colonies in Africa: Togo, Kamerun, South-West Africa and East Africa. On August 7, French and British troops invaded German Togoland. On August 10, nominal German forces, but aided by aircraft, in South West Africa, made a pre-emptive attack against South African forces. German forces in East Africa, where constant sporadic and fierce fighting continued for the whole of the war, remained undefeated until after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, when they surrendered to the vastly larger British and Empire forces they had tied up for the duration.

Asia and the Pacific

Map showing the German colony of Tsingtau and the position of the forts protecting it.
In the trenches: Australian Infantry with gas masks, Ypres, 1917

Japan besieged Germany’s Kiautschou Bay territory, along with the new city, harbour and coastal concessions of Tsingtau, on the Shandong peninsula of China, a valuable coaling port with a floating dock as well as a graving dock, and the base of the German East Asiatic Naval Squadron - which departed for Germany upon the outbreak of war. A bitter but hopeless defence was put up by the garrison using the colony's forts and several obsolete gunboats (including the Austro-Hungarian Kriegsmarine cruiser S.M.S. Kaiserin Elizabeth), but ultimately there was a surrender. The Japanese then proceeded to take the German Micronesian island colonies.

New Zealand occupied German Western Samoa, which was still in German hands, on August 30. On September 11 the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landed on the island of New Britain, which formed part of German New Guinea. Within a few months, the Allied forces had seized all the German colonies in the Pacific.

Trench Warfare Begins

French troops in action with a mortar catapult
German troops decorating a Christmas tree in 1914 (→ Christmas truce)

Military tactics in the early part of World War I failed to keep pace with advances in technology. New technology allowed the building of impressive defence systems, which out-of-date tactics could not break through. Barbed wire was a significant hindrance to massed infantry advances; artillery, vastly more lethal than in the 1870s, coupled with machine guns, made crossing open ground very difficult. Germany introduced Poison gas (pioneered by the "father of chemical warfare," the Jew, Fritz Haber, it soon became used by both sides, though it never proved decisive in winning a battle. Its effects were brutal, however, causing slow and painful death, becoming one of the most-feared and best-remembered horrors of the war. Commanders on both sides failed to develop tactics for breaking through entrenched positions without large numbers of casualties. In time, however, technology began also to yield new offensive weapons, such as the tank, a wartime invention of the British to break the trench warfare stalemate. Both Britain and France were its primary users; the Germans employed captured Allied tanks and some of their own design.

After the First Battle of the Marne, both Entente and German forces began a series of outflanking maneuvers, in the so-called 'Race to the Sea'. Britain and France soon found themselves facing entrenched German forces from Lorraine to Belgium's Flemish coast. Britain and France sought to take the offensive, while Germany defended the occupied territories; consequentially, German trenches were generally much better constructed than those of their enemy. Anglo-French trenches were only intended to be 'temporary' before their forces broke through German defenses. Both sides attempted to break the stalemate using scientific and technological advances. In April 1915, the Germans used chlorine gas, for the first time,in violation of the Hague Conventions (1899 and 1907), opening a 6kilometer (4mile) hole in the Allied lines when British and French colonial troops retreated. Military history of Canada during World War I closed the breach at the Second Battle of Ypres. At the Third Battle of Ypres, Canadian forces took the village of Passchendaele.

On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme , the British Army endured the bloodiest day in its history, suffering 57,470 casualties and 19,240 dead. Most of the casualties occurred in the first hour of the attack. The entire offensive cost the British Army almost half a million dead.

Neither side proved able to deliver a decisive blow for the next two years, though protracted German action at Battle of Verdun throughout 1916 combined the Entente’s failure at the Battle of the Somme (summer 1916), brought the exhausted French army to the brink of collapse. Futile attempts at frontal assault—with a rigid adherence to unimaginative maneuver—came at a high price for both the British and the French poilu (infantry) and led to French Army Mutinies, especially during the time of the Nivelle Offensive in the spring of 1917.

Throughout 1915 and 1917, the British Empire and France suffered more casualties than Germany, due both to the strategic and tactical stances chosen by the sides. At the strategic level, while the Germans only mounted a single main offensive at Verdun, the Allies made several attempts to break through German lines. At the tactical level, the German defensive doctrine was well suited for trench warfare, with a relatively lightly defended "sacrificial" forward position, and a more powerful main position from which an immediate and powerful counter-offensive could be launched. This combination usually was effective in pushing out attackers at a relatively low cost to the Germans. In absolute terms, of course, the cost in lives of men for both attack and defense was astounding then and remains so now.

Around 800,000 soldiers from the British Empire were on the Western Front at any one time. 1,000 battalions, occupying sectors of the line from the North Sea to the Orne River, operated on a month-long four-stage rotation system, unless an offensive was underway. The front contained over 9,600kilometers (6,000miles) of trenches. Each battalion held its sector for about a week before moving back to support lines and then further back to the reserve lines before a week out-of-line, often in the Poperinge or Amiens areas.

In the British-led Battle of Arras during the 1917 campaign, the only military success was the capture of Vimy Ridge by Canadian forces under Sir Arthur Currie and Julian Byng. It provided the allies with a great military advantage and had a lasting impact on the war. The Battle of Vimy Ridge is considered by many historians to be one of the bloodiest day for Canada.

Naval War

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, Britain initiated a naval blockade of Germany. The strategy proved effective, cutting off vital military and civilian supplies. This blockade violated international law, codified by several international agreements of the past two centuries. A blockade of stationed ships within a three mile (5 km) radius was considered legitimate, however Britain mined international waters to prevent any ships from entering entire sections of ocean, causing danger to even neutral ships. Since there was limited response to this tactic, Germany expected a similar response to its submarine warfare.


German light cruiser SMS Emden.
German battle-cruiser SMS Moltke which took part in the battle of Jutland.

At the start of the war, the German Empire had cruisers scattered across the globe, some of which were subsequently used to attack Allied merchant shipping. The British Royal Navy began to hunt them down, though not without some embarrassment from its inability to protect allied shipping: the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg attempted to raid British and French commercial traffic in the Indian Ocean region, but only managed to destroy one merchant ship as coal shortages hampered her ability to continue to attack shipping. However, on 20 September 1914, she surprised and sank the British protected cruiser HMS Pegasus. The light cruiser SMS Emden, part of the German East-Asia squadron stationed at their China colony at Tsingtau, had more success, seizing or destroying 15 merchantmen, as well as sinking a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer. However, the bulk of the German East Asia squadron, consisting of the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau, light cruisers SMS Nürnberg and SMS Leipzig and two transport ships were instead recalled and underway to Germany. They encountered a similar force from the British fleet off the coast of Chile. The German flotilla, along with SMS Dresden, sank two armoured cruisers at the Battle of Coronel, but was later subsequently almost completely destroyed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, with only SMS Dresden escaping.

The 1916 Battle of Jutland (German: Skagerrakschlacht, or "Battle of the Skagerrak") developed into the largest naval battle of the war, the only full-scale clash of so many battleships and battlecruisers during the war. It took place on 31 May until 1 June, 1916, in the North Sea off Jutland. The German Kaiserliche Marine's High Seas Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer, faced units of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet, led by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. However the rest of the British fleet began to appear on the horizon, and the Germans, realizing they would be outmaneuvered by the larger and entire British Home Fleet, decided to withdraw and managed to escape. They had inflicted more damage to the British fleet than they received with the British losing more warships, including capital ships, than the Germans.

Contrary to English propaganda the German battle fleet was also extensively used in the Baltic Sea against Russia (see below), and units of the fleet continued to put to sea to harass British shipping..


Austro-Hungarian battleship SMS Radetzky
French armoured cruiser Leon Gambetta sinking after a successful attack by Austria's Capt. George Ritter von Trapp (inset).
Italian armoured cruiser Amalfi sunk by Austro-Hungarian U-boat U-14 on 7 July 1915.
Austro-Hungarian light cruisers attacking the Otranto Barrage, 1917.

Often overlooked in this war was the Austro-Hungarian navy. In July 1914, their protected cruiser S.M.S. Zenta was sent to attack targets in Montenegro. She was cruising off that country's coast to enforce a blockade on August 16th when she and her destroyer escort S.M.S. Ulan were surprised and ambushed by a French battle fleet. Zenta raised her battle flags and opened fire to permit Ulan to escape, which it did. Zenta herself was sunk after a famous sea-battle against overwhelming odds. The coastal battleship S.M.S. Budapest now commenced regular bombardments of Montenegro's only significant port, Antivari (today: Bar), eventually putting it out of action altogether. On August 8th King Nicholas of Montenegro ordered his military to commence operations against the Austro-Hungarian naval base at Cattaro. Montengrin and French artillery on nearby Mount Lovcen began bombardments. Artillery duels with the navy continued for over two months. On October 21st the semi-dreadnought Austrian battleship S.M.S. Radetsky with her twelve-inch guns arrived to tip the balance. By the 27th the Allies conceded defeat and withdrew. Naval marines and units of the Austro-Hungarian army launched an offensive into Montenegro in January 1916 with the coastal battleship S.M.S. Budapest lending artillery support. The naval bombardments played a decisive role in breaking the morale of the Montengrins, and on January 12th Montenegro sued for an armistice, the first country to leave the war.[48]

On 26 April 1915 neutral Italy secretly signed the Treaty of London with the Allied powers and at 1600 hours on May 23rd broke off diplomatic relations with Vienna and declared war on Austria-Hungary, who were expecting this breach of treaty treachery. Four hours later "the most powerful Austrian naval force ever to put to sea" including a dozen battleships, left their ports sailing west. Ancona harbour and all its major port facilities, including fuel storage tanks, the military barracks, the citadel, and gun batteries, was bombarded by battleships from 4 a.m. A range of other points along the Italian coast were also attacked and vital strategic railways and their facilities destroyed. This dramatic show of force at the outset of the war so stunned Italy's naval leadership that the battleships of the Italian fleet never ventured out during the war.[49] While the Austro-Hungarians thereafter largely adopted a classic "fleet-in-being" tactic, the lighter units, protected, armoured, and light cruisers, as well as destroyers and submarines, were significantly active throughout the war, sinking the French armoured cruiser Léon Gambetta in April 1915, and the Italian armoured cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi, the lead ship of her class, on June 5th the same year. In December 1914 the new French battleship Jean Bart was torpedoed by an Austro-Hungarian submarine. Despite almost sinking she managed to steam slowly to Malta for repairs that required three and a half months.

The Austrians also mounted night-time raids against the Otranto Straits barrage, five in 1915, nine in 1916 and ten in 1917. The notable Battle of the Otranto Straits took place on 14–15 May 1917, was the largest surface action between enemy ships in the Adriatic Sea during World War I, when a flotilla of Austrian light cruisers and destroyers attacked the barrage, sank half (14) of the vessels there, and engaged enemy warships. These including the British cruiser H.M.S. Dartmouth, which was almost sunk after breaking off the engagement when the Italian flag officer received notice of heavy Austrian forces sailing out of Cattaro to support their returning ships; the French destroyer Boutefeu struck an Austrian mine exiting Brindisi harbour the same day and exploded, sinking with all hands.[50] On 24 October 1917 the Battle of Caporetto commenced and on November 16th the coastal battleships SMS Wien and SMS Budapest, with nine torpedo-boats and five minesweepers bombarded the significant Italian coastal batteries at Cortellazzo near the mouth of the river Piave, for four hours, knocking them all out.[51]


Imperial Russia's new dreadnought Gangut, part of their Baltic fleet.
Russian dreadnought battleship Imperatritsa Ekaterina Velikaya screening troop transports from Novorossiysk to Rize, April 1916.

During the war Russia had two major fleets, one in the Baltic and the other in the Black Sea. Because of their catastrophic losses in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) the Russians had commenced building modern capital ships, including four new dreadnoughts in the Baltic and three in the Black Sea. They also had 10 pre-dreadnoughts at their disposal, evenly split, in addition to considerable numbers of cruisers, armoured and light, destroyers, torpedo-boats, mine-layers and submarines. In the Black Sea, where there was much naval activity, Turkey was unable to compete with the Russians and suffered significant losses, despite the purchase by Turkey of the German battle-cruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau. There was also very significant naval activity the Baltic, where the Russians laid thousands of mines: an example of mining casualties being the loss of the German armoured cruiser SMS Friedrich Karl just after midnight on 17 November 1914 when she hit one mine 35 nautical miles west of Memel and 13 minutes later hit a second mine. It sank five hours later. The steamer Elbing-9, hurrying to give assistance also hit a mine and sank. On October 11th German U-boat 26 torpedoed the Russian armoured cruiser Pallada which exploded and sank with all hands. In 1915 the Russian Baltic fleet succeeded in its main duty - protecting the Russian capital and hindering any enemy advance into the Gulf of Finland. The largest concerted operation was the German Operation Albion in the Bay of Tagga in the Moon islands in September-October 1917. The Germans sent forward 10 new battleships and one battlecruiser (Moltke), 9 light cruisers, 55 destroyers, 6 submarines, 9 torpedo-boats and other assorted ships. They also used 6 airships and 101 navy planes. The Russian defence was smaller with only two pre-dreadnought battleships, 3 cruisers, 26 destroyers, 10 torpedo-boats, 3 British submarines and assorted auxiliary ships. They had about 50 planes at their disposal, as well as major shore batteries. Two German battleships, SMS Grosser Kurfurst and SMS Bayern struck mines and were slightly damaged, as was a troop transport. Major naval skirmishes took place over a week and the Russian battleship Slava was engaged on October 17th. Badly damaged and burning fiercely she was run aground and scuttled by her crew.[52]


German U-boats attempted to cut the supply lines between a supposedly neutral United States of America and Britain. The USA protested and Germany modified its rules of engagement. After the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania, which had been carrying contraband war materiéls for Britain, in 1915, Germany promised not to target passenger liners, while Britain armed its merchant ships. Finally, in early 1917 Germany adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, realizing the Americans would eventually enter the war. Germany sought to strangle Allied sea lanes before the USA could transport a large army overseas. The U-boat threat lessened when merchant ships entered convoys escorted by destroyers. This tactic made it difficult for U-boats to find targets, and the accompanying destroyers might sink a submerged submarine with depth charges. The losses to submarine attacks were reduced significantly, but the convoy system slowed the flow of supplies, as convoys were limited to the speed of the slowest ship. The solution to the delays was a massive program to build new freighters. Troop ships were too fast for the submarines and did not travel the North Atlantic in convoys.

Southern Theatres

Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V.
Russian General Nikolai Yudenich.
Austrian army regiment arriving in Jerusalem during WWI.

The Ottoman Empire joined the Central Powers in the war, the Ottoman-German Alliance having been signed in August 1914. It threatened Russia’s Caucasus territories and Britain’s communications with India via the Suez Canal. The British and French opened overseas fronts with the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign (1915), and the more successful Mesopotamian Campaign campaigns. At Gallipoli, the Turks successfully repelled the British, French, and Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs). In Mesopotamia, by contrast, after the disastrous and failed Siege of Kut (1915), British Imperial forces reorganized and captured Baghdad in March 1917. Further to the west, in the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, the Arab League had significant success sabotaging the vital trainline to Medina and capturing Aquaba, while British forces, continued to advance from Egypt capturing Jerusalem in December 1917, despite a valiant defence by Turkish defence amongst whom were detachments from the Austro-Hungarian army. The British-Egyptian Expeditionary Force, under Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, finally broke the Ottoman forces at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918.

Russian armies generally had the best of it in the Caucasus. Vice-Generalissimo Enver Pasha, supreme commander of the Turkish armed forces, was ambitious and dreamed of conquering Russian Central Asia. He was, however, a poor commander. He launched an offensive against the Russians in the Caucasus in December 1914 with 100,000 troops; insisting on a frontal attack against mountainous Russian positions in winter, he lost 86% of his force at the Battle of Sarikamis. The very competent Russian commander from 1915 to 1916, General Nikolai Nikolaevich Yudenich, drove the Turks out of most of the southern Caucasus with a string of victories. In 1917, the Grand Duke Nicholas assumed command of the Caucasus front. Nicholas planned a railway from Georgia to the conquered territories, so that fresh supplies could be brought up for a new offensive. However, in March 1917, (February in the pre-revolutionary Russian calendar), Tsar Nicholas was overthrown in the February Revolution and the Imperial Russian Caucasus Army began to disintegrate.

As a result the army corps of Armenian volunteer units realigned themselves under the command of General Tovmas Nazarbekian, with Drastamat Kanayan as a civilian commissioner of the administration for Western Armenia. The front line had three main divisions: Movses Silikyan, Andranik Toros Ozanian and Mikhail Areshian. Another regular unit was under Colonel Korganian. There were Armenian militia partisian detachments more than 40,000 strong.

Along the border of Italian Libya and British Egypt, the Senussi tribe, incited and armed by the Turks, waged a small-scale guerilla war against Allied troops. According to Martin Gilbert's The First World War, the British were forced to dispatch 12,000 troops to deal with the Senussi. Their rebellion was finally crushed in mid-1916.

Italian Participation

Italy had been allied with the Central Powers since 1882 as part of the Triple Alliance. However, Rome had a secret 1902 pact with France, effectively nullifying this alliance. When Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Italy refused to participate, arguing that one of the conditions of the Treaty was that all signatories had to be consulted first and they were not properly consulted. The Austrians argued this was untrue, that they had been fully in the picture from the outset, but the Italians remained neutral. Italy coveted various territories under Austrian rule and had decided upon a waiting game. On April 26, 1915 she secretly signed the Treaty of London (more correctly a Pact) with Britain, Russia and France. The Allies had promised Italy that in the event of victory she would receive the South Tirol south of the Brenner, Istria (including Trieste, Austria's largest and oldest port) and the northern Dalmatian littoral; the Albanian port of Valona with that country becoming an Italian protectorate, as well as a loan of £50,000,000, etc., on condition Italy declared way within a month. Therefore, on May 23, Rome declared war on Austria-Hungary (only). She did not declare war on Germany until August 27, 1916.[53]

Militarily, the Italians were in a difficult position. Their navy, for instance, had only one Dreadnought battleship and the Austrians four. The Libyan War against Turkey only three years earlier had cost Italy dearly, and in 1915 all her military resources were depleted. Further, Italy lacked sufficient heavy industry and resources for large-scale production of military material. Despite these obstacles, she managed to triple the size of her armed forces to 900,000 men by the Spring of 1915.[54]

Austro-Hungarian troops of the k. u. k. Armee (de) cross the River Isonzo, under heavy fire from the enemy.

During 1915 the first four battles of the Isonzo took place, an exercise in futility with the Italians losing 250,000 men. Generalissimo Luigi Cadorna a staunch proponent of the frontal assault, had dreams of breaking into the Slovenian plateau, taking Ljubljana, and ultimately threatening Austria itself. It was a Napoleonic Wars plan, which had no realistic chance of success in an age of barbed wire, machine guns, and indirect artillery fire, combined with hilly and mountainous terrain with experienced Austrian mountain troops entrenched in strong defensive positions. Cadorna unleashed eleven offensives (Battle of the Isonzo) with total disregard for his men's lives. The Italians also went on the offensive to relieve pressure on other Allied fronts. On the Trentino front, the Austro-Hungarians took advantage of the mountainous terrain, which favoured the defender. After an initial strategic retreat, the front remained largely unchanged, while Austrian Kaiserschützen and Standschützen and Italian Alpini engaged in bitter hand-to-hand combat throughout the summer. The Austro-Hungarians counter-attacked in the Asiago, towards Verona and Padua, in the spring of 1916 (Battle of Asiago), but made little progress. The year closed with stalemate.[55]

In the summer of 1916, the Italians captured the town of Gorizia. After this minor victory, the front remained static for over a year, despite several Italian offensives. In the autumn of 1917, thanks to the improving situation on the Eastern front, the Austrians received large numbers of reinforcements, including German Stormtroopers and Alpenkorps. The Central Powers launched a crushing offensive on the October 24, achieving victory at the Battle of Caporetto, the Italian army being routed and retreating more than 100 km (60 miles). The Italians were able to reorganise and stabilize the front at the Battle of the Piave River. In 1918, the Austro-Hungarians repeatedly failed to break through, in a series of battles on the Asiago, finally being decisively defeated by an Allied (including British and French troops) offensive in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in October of that year. Austria-Hungary called for an armistice in early November 1918.

War in the Balkans

Serbian Campaign

Serbian Prisoners of War in 1915.

Initially things went surprisingly well for the Serbs, who on August 12, 1914 halted the over-optimistic Austrian advance as their Fifth Army crossed the Drina rivier, the Serbs occupying defensive positions on the south side of the Drina and Sava rivers. The Austrians withdrew totally from Serbian territory on August 24. They re-organised and regrouped, returning with a new offensive on September 7 inflicting heavy casualties on the Serbs who fell back into (Austrian) Bosnia. But by October 25, Potioreck, the Austrian commander, had cleared Serbian forces from Bosnia. On December 2, Belgrade fell to Austrian forces. The Serbs regrouped and threw themselves with suicidal abandon at the Austrians and by December 13, Potiorek once more retreated across the Sava, and Belgrade was relieved on the 15th. The Serbian Army had lost 170,000 troops. By the beginning of October 1915 the Austrians had regrouped and on the 7th they swarmed across the Sava and Danube rivers with the Bulgarian First Army also moving against Serbia from the east, cutting off the escape route to Salonika. Serbia was this time quickly defeated and over-run by the Central Powers. 100,000 men of the Serbian Army, leaving behind their equipment, escaped into neutral Albania in one of the most difficult retreats in history.[56]


In late 1915, a Franco-British force landed at Salonica in Greece, to offer assistance and to pressure the Greek government to declare war against the Central Powers. Unfortunately for the Allies, the pro-German King Constantine I dismissed the pro-Allied government of Eleftherios Venizelos, before the allied expeditionary force could arrive.

Towards the end of the war the Entente powers broke through the Bulgarian forces on the Salonika front, after most of the German and Austro-Hungarian troops had been withdrawn. The Bulgarians suffered their only defeat of the war, at the battle of Dobro Pole, but days later, they decisively defeated British and Greek forces at the Battle of Doiran, avoiding occupation. Bulgaria nevertheless felt obliged to sign an armistice on 29 September, 1918.

Eastern Front

Russian General Paul von Rennenkampf (de), defeated at the Battle of Tannenberg.
Austrian troops on the Eastern Front, 1915.

Initial Russian plans called for simultaneous invasions of Austrian Galicia and German East Prussia. Russia invaded East Prussia on August 7th with two huge armies, diverting German forces intended for the Western Front. Germany defeated these armies in a series of battles from August 17 until September 2 and the Russians were driven out of East Prussia by Generals Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff in what became known as the Battle of Tannenberg.

Russia's initial advance into Austrian Galicia was partially successful, and this province became a major battleground between the opposing forces. Ukrainians could be found participating on both sides of the conflict (though a majority sided with Austria-Hungary. Russia's less developed industrial base, poor railways, and ineffective military leadership was instrumental in the events that unfolded. By the spring of 1915, the Russians had retreated from Galicia, and in May the Central Powers achieved a remarkable breakthrough on Poland's southern frontiers. On August 5th they captured Warsaw and forced the Russians to withdraw from their Congress Poland. This became known as the "Great Retreat" in Russia and the "Great Advance" in Germany.

Furthest extent of Central Powers' advance into Russia.
Generalfeldmarschall Leopold Maximilian Joseph Maria Arnulf Prinz von Bayern in Brest-Litovsk

Dissatisfaction with the Russian government's conduct of the war grew, despite the partial success of the June 1916 Brusilov offensive in eastern Galicia. This was undermined by the reluctance of other generals to commit their forces. On 23 July 1916 the Tsar dismissed his Pan-Slavist Foreign Minister, Sazonov, and replaced him with Boris Sturmer, a Baltic Baron of German ancestry.[57] Russian forces revived only temporarily with Romania's entry into the war on 27 August. With a vast and mountainous front, the Austro-Hungarian army was seriously stretched and German forces now came to the aid of their embattled units in Transylvania. Romania subsequently fell to the Central Powers on 6 December.

Bolshevik Revolution

Meanwhile, general unrest grew in Russia, with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia at Headquarters on the northern front, and the civil government and Parliament (Duma) unable to cope with the enemies within. In February 1917, violent out-of-control demonstrations in Petrograd culminated in the February Revolution, the forced abdication of Nicholas II of Russia in a railway carriage at Pskov in February 1917, and the appointment of a weak Russian Provisional Government under Prince Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov. However the deputies of the Petrograd Soviets continually obstructed Parliament. This arrangement led to confusion and chaos both at the front and at home. The Government had pledged to continue the war until the 'final victory', a universally unpopular move. The army became increasingly ineffective with mass desertions, and the war and the government became more and more unpopular.[58]

The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, promised to pull Russia out of the war, and in their October Revolution they took power in a coup using armed militias and disaffected soldiers. In December an armistice was agreed with the Central Powers. At first, the Bolsheviks refused to agree to the harsh terms. But when the Central Powers resumed the war and marched with impunity across Ukraine and other parts of Russia, the new government acceded to the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March, 1918. It took Russia out of the war and removed vast territories, including Finland, the Baltic states, Congress Poland and, temporarily, Russian Ukraine.

During the subsequent Russian Civil War the British led a small-scale "intervention" in Russia, to support the White Russians. Troops, tanks and equipment were landed in Arkhangelsk, Murmansk and the Crimea.[59]

1917 and 1918

Canadians during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917.

Events of 1917 proved decisive in ending the war, although their effects were not fully felt until 1918. The British naval blockade began to have a very serious impact on Germany. In response, in February 1917, the German General Staff convinced Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg to declare unrestricted submarine warfare, with the goal of starving Britain out of the war. Tonnage sunk rose above 500,000 tons per month from February to July. It peaked at 860,000 tons in April. After July, the reintroduced convoy system became extremely effective in neutralizing the U-boat threat. Britain was now safe from starvation. German industrial output continued to fall.

The victory of Austria-Hungary (with German assistance) at the Battle of Caporetto led the Allies at the Rapallo Conference to form the Supreme Allied Council to co-ordinate planning. Previously, British and French armies had operated under separate commands.

In December, the new revolutionary Bolshevik Government who had seized power in Russia signed an armistice with the Central Powers. This was followed by the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Russia had left the war. This released many German troops for use in the west. Ironically, German troop transfers could have been greater if their territorial acquisitions and responsibilities had not been so huge. With German reinforcements and new American troops pouring in, the final outcome was to be decided on the Western front. The Central Powers knew now that they could not win a protracted war. But they held out high hopes for a quick decisive offensive. Furthermore, the leaders of the Central Powers and the Allies became increasingly fearful of social unrest and revolution in Europe.

Entry of the United States

The United States originally pursued a policy of isolationism, avoiding conflict whilst trying to broker a peace. This resulted in increased tensions with Berlin and London. But the latter was winning the propaganda war. At the outbreak of the war Britain had severed the European-Atlantic cables meaning the only news reaching North America came by the UK-USA cable. Moreover, the press agencies and the newspapers across the USA fed by them were inextricably linked to British agencies and press. When a German U-boat sank the British liner RMS Lusitania in 1915, with 128 Americans aboard, the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson vowed that "America was too proud to fight" and demanded an end to attacks on passenger ships. Germany complied. Wilson unsuccessfully tried to mediate a settlement. He repeatedly warned that America would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare, and he was under pressure from former president Theodore Roosevelt, who denounced German acts as "piracy." Other factors contributing to the U.S. entry into the war include the alleged German sabotage of both the Black Tom island munitions depot in New York harbour on 30 July 1916, and the Kingsland Explosion, at a munitions factory in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, on January 11, 1917.

In January 1917, after the Imperial Navy pressurised the Naval Ministry and the Kaiser, Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare.

Britain's secret "Room 40" cryptography group had decrypted the German diplomatic code, and discovered a proposal from Berlin (the famous, but disputed, Zimmermann Telegram) to Mexico to join the war as Germany's ally against the United States. The proposal suggested that Mexico should also enlist Japan as an ally; this would prevent America from joining the Allies and deploying troops to Europe, which would give the Germans more time for their unrestricted submarine warfare program to strangle Britain's vital war supplies. In return, the Germans would promise Mexico support in recovering Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. After the British revealed the telegram to the Americans, Woodrow Wilson, who was still attached to neutrality, released the "telegram" as a way of supporting his proposed plan to arm American merchant ships. After submarines sank seven American merchant ships en-route with war supplies to Britain, and the publication of the Zimmerman telegram, Wilson called for war on Germany, which the U.S. Congress declared on April 6, 1917.

The United States was never formally a member of the Allies but became a self-styled "Associated Power". America, like the United Kingdom, had a small army, but it quickly drafted four million men, and by summer 1918 was able to send 10,000 fresh soldiers to France almost every day. Germany had miscalculated that it would be many more months before they would arrive or that the arrival could be stopped by U-boats.

The United States Navy sent a battleship group to Scapa Flow to join the British Grand Fleet, destroyers to Queenstown, Ireland, and submarines to help guard convoys. Several regiments of U.S. Marines were also dispatched to France. The British and French wanted American units used to reinforce their troops already on the battle lines and not waste scarce shipping on bringing over supplies. The Americans rejected the first proposition and accepted the second. General John J. Pershing, American Expeditionary Force (AEF) commander, refused to break up American units to be used as reinforcements for British Empire and French units (though he did allow African-American combat units to be used by the French). AEF doctrine called for the use of frontal assaults, which had been discarded by that time by British Empire and French commanders because of the large loss of life sustained throughout the war.

German Offensives of 1918

German Quartermaster-General Erich Ludendorff drew up plans (Operation Michael) for a 1918 offensive on the Western Front. The Spring Offensive sought to divide the British and French forces with a series of feints and advances. The German leadership hoped to strike a decisive blow before significant U.S.A. forces arrived. Before the offensive began, Ludendorff left the German Eighth Army in Russia, and sent over only a small portion of the German forces to the west. Operation Michael opened on 21 March 1918. British forces were attacked near Amiens. Ludendorff wanted to split the British and French armies. German forces achieved an unprecedented (in WWI Western Front terms) advance of 60 kilometers (40 miles). For the first time since 1914, the maneuver was successful on the battlefield.

British and French trenches were penetrated using novel infiltration tactics, also named Hutier tactics, after General Oskar von Hutier. Attacks had been characterised by long artillery bombardments and massed assaults. However, in the Spring Offensive, the German Army used artillery only briefly and infiltrated small groups of infantry at weak points. They attacked command and logistics areas and bypassed points of serious resistance. More heavily armed infantry then destroyed these isolated positions. German success relied greatly on the element of surprise.

The front moved to within 120 kilometers (75 miles) of Paris. Three heavy Krupp railway guns fired 183 shells on the capital, causing many Parisians to flee. The initial offensive was so successful that Kaiser Wilhelm II declared 24 March a national holiday. Many Germans thought victory was near. After heavy fighting, however, the offensive was halted. Lacking tanks or self-propelled artillery, the Germans were unable to consolidate their gains. The sudden halt was also a result of the four AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) divisions that were rushed in, thus doing what no other army had done and stopping the German advance in its tracks. During that time the first Australian division was hurridly sent north to stop the second German break through.

The American divisions now began to arrive. Pershing had sought to field them as an independent force, and they were assigned to the depleted French and British Empire commands on 28 March. A supreme command of Allied forces was created at the Doullens Conference. Ferdinand Foch was appointed as supreme commander of the Allied forces. Haig, Petain, and Pershing retained tactical control of their respective armies.

Following Operation Michael, Germany launched Operation Georgette against the northern English Channel ports. The Allies halted the drive with limited territorial gains for Germany. The German Army to the south then conducted the Third Battle of the Aisne, broadly towards Paris. Operation Marne was launched on 15 July, attempting to encircle Reims and beginning the Second Battle of the Marne. The resulting Allied counter-attack marked their first successful offensive of the war. By 20 July, the Germans were back at their Kaiserschlacht starting lines, effectively having achieved nothing. Following this last phase of the war in the West, the German Army never again regained the initiative. German casualties between March and April 1918 were 270,000.

Meanwhile, Germany was facing a grave crisis at home: near starvation of the civilian population was at hand. Socialist and communist opposition and agitation reached new highs and anti-war marches became frequent. Morale in the army also declined. Industrial output was only 53 % of 1913 levels.

Allied Victory: Summer and Autumn 1918

The Allied counteroffensive, known as the Hundred Days Offensive, began on 8 August 1918. The Battle of Amiens developed with III Corps of the British Fourth Army on the left, the French First Army on the right, and the Australian Infantry Forces and Canadian Corps spearheading the offensive in the centre. It involved 414 tanks of the Mark I/Mark IV types, and 120,000 men. They advanced 12 kilometers (7 miles) into German-held territory in just seven hours. General Ludendorff referred to this as the "Black Day of the German army".

Supply problems caused the offensive to lose momentum. British units had encountered problems when all but seven tanks and trucks ran out of fuel. On 15 August Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig called a halt and began planning a new offensive: the Second Battle of the Somme began on 21 August. The British Third and Fourth Armies and the American II Corps pushed the German Second Army back over a 55 kilometer (34 mile) front. By 2 September, the Germans were back to the Hindenburg Line, their starting point in 1914, but still well inside France.

The Allied attack on the Hindenburg Line began on 26 September. 260,000 American soldiers went "over the top". All initial objectives were captured; the fresh U.S. 79th Infantry Division, which met stiff resistance at Montfaucon, took an extra day to capture its objective. The U.S. Army stalled because of supply problems and because its inexperienced headquarters had to cope with significant issues.

At the same time, French units broke through in Champagne and closed on the Belgian frontier. The most significant advance came from French colonial units, as they entered Belgium (liberation of Ghent). The German army had to shorten its front and use the Dutch frontier as an anchor to fight rear-guard actions. This probably saved the army from disintegration but was devastating for morale.

By October, it was evident that Germany could no longer mount a successful defence. They were outnumbered, with few new recruits. Rations were cut. Ludendorff decided, on 1 October, that Germany had two ways out — total annihilation or an armistice. He recommended the latter at a summit of senior German officials. Allied pressure, meanwhile, did not let up.

News of Germany’s impending military defeat spread throughout the German armed forces. The threat of mutiny was rife. Admiral Reinhard Scheer decided to launch a last attempt to restore the "valor" of the German Navy. Word of the impending naval action reached sailors at Kiel. Many rebelled and were arrested, refusing to be part of a naval offensive which they believed to be suicidal. Ludendorff took the blame for the hopelessness of the German position and the Kaiser dismissed him on 26 October. The collapse of Austria-Hungary into revolution meant that Germany was about to lose its main supplies of oil and food. The reserves had been used up, but the Americans kept arriving at the rate of 10,000 per day.

With a new government in Berlin, further fighting became impossible. With 6 million German casualties, Germany moved toward peace. Prince Maximilian of Baden took charge of the new government. Negotiations with President Wilson began immediately, in the vain hope that better terms would be offered than with the British and French and that Wilsons's famous "Fourteen Points" would be honoured. Instead Wilson demanded the abdication of the Kaiser. The Social Democratic Party's Philipp Scheidemann on 9 November declared Germany to be a Republic and the Kaiser went into exile in Holland. Imperial Germany was dead; a new Germany had been born: the Weimar Republic.

End of War

The collapse of the Central Powers was almost universal within a two month period. Bulgaria was the first to sign an armistice on September 29, 1918 at Salonika.

During the last week of October declarations of independence from Austria-Hungary were made in Budapest, Prague and Agram. On October 29, the Imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice. But the Italians continued advancing, reaching Trento, Udine and Trieste. On November 3 Austria-Hungary again sent a flag of truce to ask for an Armistice. The terms, arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, were communicated to the Austrian Commanders and accepted. The Armistice with Austria-Hungary was signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua, on November 3. Austria and Hungary layer signed two separate armistices following the overthrow of the Habsburg monarchy.

An Armistice with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne in France at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918 at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month ; a ceasefire came into immediate effect. Opposing armies on the Western Front began to withdraw from their positions.

A formal state of war between the two sides persisted for another seven months, until signing of the imposed and flawed Treaty of Versailles with Germany on 28 June, 1919. Later treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire were also signed. However, the treaty with the Ottoman Empire was followed by strife (the Turkish Independence War) and a final peace treaty was signed between the Allied Powers and the country that would shortly become the Republic of Turkey, at Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923.

Some war memorials date the end of the war as being when the Versailles Treaty was signed in June 1919; by contrast, most commemorations of the wars end concentrate on the armistice of November 11, 1918. Legally the last formal peace treaties were not signed until the Treaty of Lausanne. Under its terms, the Allied forces abandoned Constantinople on the 23rd of August, 1923.


No other war had changed the map of Europe so dramatically — four empires disappeared: the German, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and the Russian. Four defunct dynasties, the Hohenzollerns, the Habsburg, Romanovs and the Ottomans together with all the ancillary Royalty and aristocracies, all fell after the war. Belgium was badly damaged, as was France with 1.4 million soldiers dead, not counting other casualties. Germany and Russia were similarly affected. The war had profound economic consequences. In addition, a Spanish flu that started in Western Europe in the latter months of the war, killed millions in Europe and then spread around the world. Overall, the Spanish flu killed at least 50 million people.

Peace Treaties

See: Treaty of Versailles

After the war, the Allies imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles ended the war with Germany. Germany was kept under blockade until it signed the treaty, which, outrageously, declared that Germany was responsible for the war. The treaty required Germany to pay enormous war reparations, which it did by partially borrowing from the United States, until the reparations were suspended in 1931 by Germany.[60] The Treaty of Versailles caused enormous bitterness in Germany[61] which nationalist movements exploited. The treaty contributed to one of the worst economic collapses in history of Germany, sparking runaway inflation which made its currency "altogether worthless".[62]

The Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned by the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920. The Treaty, however, was never ratified by the Sultan, and was rejected by the subsequent Turkish Republican Movement. This led to the Turkish Independence War and, ultimately, to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.[63]

Dismembering of Hungary

Hungary was completely dismembered, 3/4 of Hungarian territory and 2/3 of the populance was given to partly newly created neighbors. In Slovakia, for centuries part of Hungary, lived 1.7 Million Slovaks and 1.2 Million Hungarians, with, in other words, only a 500,000 Slovakian majority, in 63 thousand square kilometres of former Hungary. Romania was awarded over 95 thousand square kilometres of Hungary, while Hungary itself was now only 93 thousand square kilometres. Out of 10,050,575 Hungarians 3,332,000 became foreigners in the new countries and occupied provinces. It was argued that there was almost nobody in Hungary who did not have relatives in the detached areas. This shameful "peace" was via the Treaty of Trianon. The Allies forbade the return of the Habsburgs as Kings of Hungary.[64]

Austria was also partitioned, largely along ethnic lines. The details were contained in the Treaty of Saint-Germain.

New National Identities

Poland re-emerged as an independent country, after more than a century, with a 25 year League of Nations Mandate over Galicia and Allied awards of large parts of Prussia. Yugoslavia, a new 'Greater Serbia', and Czechoslovakia were entirely new nations; in the latter the Czechs comprised only 43% of the population.

Russia became the Soviet Union and lost Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which became independent countries.

The Ottoman Empire was soon replaced by Turkey and several other countries in the Middle East. Post-war Allies colonization in parts of the Ottoman Empire led to many future problems still unresolved today. Conflict between Jewish immigrants and the indigenous Arabs, mostly Muslim, population of Palestine intensified as the European and American Zionists encouraged mass immigration to that country. The British, under constant attack by Jewish terrorists, decided to leave Palestine and in 1947 the United Nations (moved from Geneva to the USA so it could be under American control) with Jewish approval, partitioned Palestine, but without Arab and Muslim approval. The creation of the state of Israel came next.

Social Trauma

The experiences of the war led to a collective trauma for all participating countries. The optimism of the 1900s was gone and those who fought in the war became known as the "Lost Generation". For the next few years, much of Europe mourned. Memorials were erected in thousands of villages and towns. The soldiers returning home from World War I suffered greatly from the horrors they had witnessed. Although it was called shell shock at the time, many returning veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The social trauma caused by years of fighting manifested itself in different ways. Some people claimed to be revolted by jingoism and its results. They began to work toward a more internationalist world, supporting organizations such as the League of Nations; this was especially prominent for the Masonic countries; Anglo-Americans and France. Pacifism became increasingly popular and both Germany and Britain had large Peace Movements. Others had the opposite reaction, feeling that only strength and military-might could be relied upon in a chaotic and inhumane world. In Germany nationalists believed that even though the army was not defeated by any way until mid-1918, there was not a single foreign soldier on German territory, internal sabotage (Dolchstoss) had caused unnecessary military weakness and defeat. The nationalist parties in the German Reichstag would consider nothing less than a complete reconsideration, with full German involvement, of the Treaty of Versailles and utterly opposed Germany's entry into the League of Nations[65]. The rise of National Socialism and Fascism revived the nationalists' spirits and they continued to reject many post-war changes.

Many believed that the war heralded the end of the world as they had known it, including the collapse of Capitalism and Imperialism. Communist movements around the world drew strength from this theory and enjoyed a level of popularity they had never known before. These feelings were most pronounced in areas directly or harshly affected by the war.

In May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae M.D. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada wrote the memorable poem In Flanders Fields as a salute to those who perished in the Great War. Published in Punch Magazine December 8 1918, it is still recited today, especially on Armistice Day.

Soldiers Experiences

The soldiers of the war were initially volunteers but increasingly were conscripted into service. Books such as All Quiet on the Western Front detail the mundane time and intense horror of soldiers that fought the war but had no control of the experience they existed in. William Henry Lamin's experience as a front line soldier is detailed in his letters posted in real time plus 90 years in a blog [1], as if it were a technology available at the time.

About 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps during the war. All nations pledged to follow the Hague Convention on fair treatment of prisoners of war. In general, a POW's rate of survival was much higher than their peers at the front.[66] Individual surrenders were uncommon. Large units usually surrendered en mass. At the Battle of Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered. When the besieged garrison of Kaunas surrendered in 1915, 20,000 Russians became prisoners. Over half of Russian losses were prisoners (as a proportion of those captured, wounded or killed); for Austria 32%, for Italy 26%, for France 12%, for Germany 9%; for Britain 7%. Prisoners from the Allied armies totalled about 1.4 million (not including Russia, which lost between 2.5 and 3.5 million men as prisoners.) From the Central Powers about 3.3 million men became prisoners.

Germany held 2.5 million prisoners; Russia held 2.9 million and Britain and France held about 720,000. Most of the Western Allies POWs were captured just prior to the Armistice. The U.S. held 48,000. The most dangerous moment was the act of surrender, when helpless soldiers were sometimes gunned down. Once prisoners reached a camp, in general, conditions were satisfactory (and much better than in World War II), thanks in part to the efforts of the International Red Cross and inspections by neutral nations. Conditions were terrible in Russia, starvation was common for prisoners and civilians alike; about 15-20% of the prisoners in Russia died. In Germany food was in short supply, but only 5% died.

Armenians crucified by the Ottoman Turks

The Ottoman Empire often treated POWs poorly. Some 11,800 British Empire soldiers, most of them Indians, became prisoners after the Siege of Kut, in Mesopotamia, in April 1916; 4,250 died in captivity.The survivors were then forced to build a railway through the Taurus Mountains.

In Russia, Czech prisoners-of-war from the Austro-Hungarian army were released in 1917. They re-armed themselves as the Czech Legion becoming a military menace and nightmare for both Red and White Russian armies during the Russian Civil War, culminating in them capturing and handing over to the Bolsheviks the White Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Kolchak who was then murdered.

Armenian Holocaust

The ethnic cleansing of up to 3,000,000 Christian Armenians between 1896 and 1916 the Ottoman Empire is widely considered genocide. The Turks, at that time widely under Jewish leadership, accused the Armenian Apostolic Church Armenians of preparing to ally themselves with Russia and saw the entire Armenian population as an enemy. Turkish governments have consistently denied the Armenian Holocaust charges, often arguing that those who died were simply caught up in the fighting or that killings of Armenians were justified by their individual or collective treason. These claims have been disputed by non-Turkish scholars.

Economics and Manpower Issues

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased for three Allies (Britain, Italy, and U.S.), but decreased in France and Russia, in neutral Netherlands and in the main three Central Powers. The shrinkage in GDP in Austria, Russia, France, and the Ottoman Empire reached 30 to 40%. In Austria, for example, most of the pigs were slaughtered and, at war's end, there was no meat.

All nations had increases in the government’s share of GDP, surpassing fifty percent in both Germany and France and nearly reaching fifty percent in Britain. To pay for purchases in the United States, Britain cashed in its massive investments in American railroads and then began borrowing heavily on Wall Street. President Wilson was on the verge of cutting off the loans in late 1916, but with war imminent with Germany, he allowed a massive increase in Federal government of the United States lending to the Allies. After 1919, the U.S. demanded repayment of these loans, which, in part, were funded by German reparations, which, in turn, were supported by American loans to Germany. This circular system collapsed in 1931 and the loans were never repaid.

One of the most dramatic effects was the expansion of governmental powers and responsibilities in Britain, France, the United States, and the Dominions of the British Empire. In order to harness all the power of their societies, new government ministries and powers were created. New taxes were levied and laws enacted, all designed to bolster the war effort; many of which have lasted to this day.

At the same time, the war strained the abilities of the formerly large and bureaucratized governments such as in Austria-Hungary and Germany. Here, however, the long-term effects were clouded by the defeat of these governments.

Families were altered by the departure of many men. With the death or absence of the primary wage earner, women were forced into the workforce in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, industry needed to replace the lost laborers sent to war. This aided the struggle for voting rights for women.

As the war slowly turned into a war of attrition, conscription was implemented in some countries. This issue was particularly explosive in Canada and Australia. In the former it opened a political gap between French-Canadians; who claimed their true loyalty was to Canada and not the British Empire and the English-speaking majority, who saw the war as a duty to both Britain and Canada. Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden pushed through a Military Service Act that caused the Conscription Crisis of 1917. In Australia, a sustained pro-conscription campaign by Prime Minister William Morris Hughes, caused a split in the Australian Labor Party and Hughes formed the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1917 to further the matter. Nevertheless, the labour movement, the Catholic Church and Irish republican expatriates successfully opposed Hughes' push to introduce conscription, which was rejected in two plebiscites.

In Britain, rationing was finally imposed in early 1918 and was limited to meat, sugar and fats (butter and oleo) but not bread. The new system worked smoothly. From 1914 to 1918 trade union membership doubled, from a little over four million to a little over eight million. Work stoppages and strikes became frequent in 1917-18 as the unions expressed grievances regarding prices, alcohol control, pay disputes, fatigue from overtime and working on Sundays and inadequate housing. Conscription put into uniform nearly every physically fit man, six million out of ten million eligible in Britain. Of these, about 750,000 lost their lives and 1,700,000 were wounded. Most deaths were to young unmarried men; 160,000 wives lost husbands and 300,000 children lost fathers.

Britain turned to her colonies for help in obtaining essential war materials whose supply had become difficult from traditional sources. Geologists, such as Albert Ernest Kitson, were called upon to find new resources of precious minerals in the African colonies. Kitson discovered important new deposits of Manganese, used in munitions production, in the Gold Coast colony in West Africa.


The First World War began as a clash of 20th century technology and 19th century military tactics, with inevitably large casualties. By the end of 1917, however, the major armies, now numbering millions of men, had modernized and were making use of wireless communication, armoured cars, tanks and strategical aircraft. Infantry formations were reorganized, so that 100-man companies were no longer the main unit of maneuver. Instead, squads of 10 or so men, under the command of a junior NCO, were favoured. Artillery also under went a revolution.

A British Mark I tank, 1916

In 1914, cannons were positioned in the front line and fired directly at their targets. By 1917, indirect fire guns (as well as mortars and even machine guns) was responsible for the majority of casualties. Counter-battery fire missions became commonplace, using new techniques for spotting and ranging enemy artillery.

Germany was far ahead of the Allies in utilizing heavy indirect fire. It employed 150 and 210 millimeter howitzers in 1914 when the typical French and British guns were only 75 and 105 mm. The British had a 6inch (152 mm) howitzer, but it was so heavy that it had to be assembled for firing. Germans also fielded Austrian 305 mm and 420 mm guns, and already by the beginning of the war had inventories of various calibers of Minenwerfer that were ideally suited for trench warfare.

Much of the combat involved trench warfare, where hundreds often died for each yard gained. Many of the deadliest battles in history occurred during the First World War. Such battles include Battle of Ypres, Battle of the Marne, Battle of Cambrai, Battle of the Somme, Battle of Verdun, and Battle of Gallipoli. The Haber process of nitrogen fixation was employed to provide the German forces with a constant supply of gunpowder, in the face of British naval blockade. Artillery was responsible for the largest number of casualties and consumed vast quantities of explosives. The large number of head-wounds caused by exploding shells and shrapnel forced the combatant nations to develop the modern steel helmet. The French, who introduced the Adrian helmet in 1915, led this effort. It was quickly followed by the Brodie helmet, worn by British Imperial and U.S. troops, and in 1916 by the German Stahlhelm, the distinctive steel helmet, which the design, with improvements, is still in use today.

There was minor aerial bombing of cities, and chemical warfare, both of which were outlawed by the 1907 Hague Conventions. The widespread use of chemical warfare, was a distinguishing feature of the conflict. Gases used included chlorine, Mustard gas and phosgene. Only a small proportion of total war casualties were caused by gas. Effective countermeasures to gas attacks were quickly created, such as gas masks.

The most powerful land based weapons were railway guns weighing hundreds of tons apiece. These were nicknamed Big Berthas, even though the namesake was not a railway gun. Germany developed the so-called 'Paris Gun' that was able to bombard Paris from a distance of over 100 km, though shells were relatively light at 94 kilograms (210 lb). While the Allies had railway guns, German models severely out-ranged and out-classed them.

Fixed-wing aircraft were a World War I aviation first used militarily during the First World War. They were initially used for reconnaissance and Close air support. To shoot down enemy planes, anti-aircraft guns and fighter aircraft were developed. Strategic bombers were created, principally by the Germans and British, though the former used [[Zeppelin]s] as well.

Towards the end of the conflict, aircraft carriers were used for the first time, with HMS Furious launching Sopwith Camels in a raid against the Zeppelin hangars at Tondern in 1918.

Submarines were deployed by all participants after the war began. Alternating between restricted and unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, they were employed by the German Kaiserliche Marine in a strategy to deprive the British Isles of vital supplies. The deaths of British merchantmen and the seeming invulnerability of U-boats led to the development of depth charges (1916), hydrophones (passive sonar, 1917), blimps (balloons), so-called hunter-killer submarines (HMS R 1, 1917), ahead-throwing weapons and dipping hydrophones (both abandoned in 1918).

Trenches, the machine gun, air reconnaissance, barbed wire and modern artillery with fragmentation shells helped bring the battle lines, in particular the Western Front, of World War I to a stalemate. The infantry was armed mostly with magazine fed bolt action rifles, but the machine gun, with the ability to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, blunted most infantry attacks. The British sought a solution with the creation of the tank and mechanized warfare. The Mark I were used during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. Mechanical reliability became an issue, but the experiment proved its worth. Within a year, the British were fielding tanks by the hundreds and showed their potential during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, by breaking the Hindenburg Line, while combined arms teams captured 8000 enemy soldiers and 100 guns. Light automatic weapons also were introduced, such as the Lewis Gun and Browning Automatic Rifle.

Manned observation balloons, floating high above the trenches, were used as stationary reconnaissance platforms, reporting enemy movements and directing artillery. Balloons commonly had a crew of two, equipped with parachutes. In the event of an enemy air attack, the crew could parachute to safety. At the time, parachutes were too bulky to be used by pilots of aircraft and smaller versions would not be developed until the end of the war. Recognized for their value as observation platforms, balloons were important targets of enemy aircraft. To defend against air attack, they were heavily protected by antiaircraft guns and patrolled by friendly aircraft. Blimps and balloons contributed to air-to-air combat among aircraft because of their reconnaissance value. The Germans conducted air raids on England during 1915 and 1916 with airships, hoping to damage British morale and cause aircraft to be diverted from the front lines (Luftschiffwaffe im Ersten Weltkrieg).

Another new weapon sprayed jets of burning fuel: flamethrowers. First used by the German army and later adopted by other forces. Although not of high tactical value, they were a powerful and demoralizing weapon, and caused terror on the battlefield. It was a dangerous weapon to wield, as its heavy weight made operators vulnerable targets.

See Also

Further reading

  • Bulow, Prince Bernhard von, Imperial Germany, London, 1914.
  • The famous "coloured books" of all the various governments involved in The Great War are absolutely essential reading. The most notorious are the Allied ones which are "selective", and so notable for what was left out as much as what appears.

The American Association for International Conciliation in New York were responsible for bringing these books to the public before the USA entered the war. They are verbatim government publications and include:

  • No.89, The Austrian Red Book, April 1915.
  • No.90, The Serbian Blue Book, May 1915.
  • No.96, Official Documents Bearing upon the European War, Series XI:
(1) US Secretary Bryan’s Letter to Senator Stone regarding charges of partiality shown to Great Britain, 20th January 1915.
(2) The Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs to US Ambassador Penfield, 29th June 1915.(3)The US Secretary of State to Ambassador Penfield, 12th August 1915.
  • No.136, Russian Documents, March 1919.
  • Koester, Frank, The Lies of the Allies - a remarkable collection of facts, proofs and documents of how England, the Anglo-maniacs, and the 'big dailies' humbug the American people, 1916. (PDF-File) Non US-Citizens has to use an US-Proxy to download)
  • Ludendorff, Erich, My War Memories 1914-1918, Hutchinson & Co., London, 1920 (2 vols.)
  • Witte, Count, Memoirs, New York, 1921.
  • Gurdon,John Everard The German Air Force in The Great War, (1921), (PDF-File)
  • Buchanan, George, My Mission to Russia by Sir George Buchanan (2 vols), London, 1923. Sir George was the British Ambassador to St.Petersburg 1910-1918.
  • Montgelas, Max, The Case for the Central Powers - an Impeachment of the Versailles Verdict, (translated by Constance Vesey), London, 1925.
    • (Count Montgelas's father had been the Bavarian Government’s Ambassador in St.Petersburg, where the Count was born. The author was a member of the Reichstag Committee of Enquiry (into the war) in 1918, and a member of the Commission sent to Versailles by the German Government in 1919, specially to investigate the question of responsibility for the war. He was one of the four signatories to the Memorandum, presented on May 29 in reply to the allegations made by the Commission appointed by the Allied and Associated Governments to report on the subject, and he was jointly responsible, with Delbruck, for the Memorandum replying to the Allied Note of 16th June 1919.)
  • Wilhelm, Crown Prince, I Seek The Truth – on Responsibility for the War (translated by Ralph Butler), London, 1926.
  • Ponsonby, Arthur, Falsehood in Wartime: Propaganda Lies of the First World War, 1928 George Allen and Unwin, London (HTML-Version, Table of Contents, order the book)
  • Gerry Docherty / Jim MacGregor:
    • Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War. Mainstream Publishing; Reprint edition, 2014, ISBN 978-1780576305
    • Prolonging the Agony: How the Anglo-American Establishment Deliberately Extended WWI by Three-And-A-Half Years. Trine Day, 2018, ISBN 978-1634241564
  • Justus D. Doenecke: Nothing Less Than War: A New History of America's Entry into World War I. University Press of Kentucky, 2014, ISBN 978-0813145501
  • John V. Denson: A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2006, ISBN 978-1479318070
  • Nicholas Kollerstrom: How Britain Initiated both World Wars, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, ISBN 978-1530993185
  • Redlich, Joseph, Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria, London, 1929.
  • Wheeler-Bennett, John, Brest-Litovsk – The Forgotten Peace - March 1918. First published in 1938 and reprinted in 1939, 1956, 1963 & 1966. London.
  • Kurenberg, Joachim von, The Kaiser, London, 1954.
  • Crankshaw, Edward, The Fall of the House of Habsburg, London, 1963.
  • Dmytryshyn, Basil, editor, Imperial Russia – A Source Book 1700-1917, USA, 1967. It contains Sazanov’s (Foreign Minister) account of Russia’s entry into the war; as well as the famous and prophetic "Memorandum" to Tsar Nicholas of February 1914 by Durnovo who had a distinguished ministerial career and was a prominent member of the State Council. He argued against the war. Almost everything he says came true.
  • Geiss, Imanuel, July 1914 - The Outbreak of the 1st World War - selected documents, London, 1967. The author/editor is an established left-wing (possibly Marxist) historian who is very anti-Imperialist etc. So "selected documents" means the ones that he wants you to see. Most can in any case be found in the Kautsky Documents.
  • Pitt, Barrie, General Editor, The Great War, published by Purnell & Sons Ltd.,(BPC), London, from 1969,with countless contributing experts from all the beligerent countries.
  • Watt, Richard M., The King's Depart, London, 1969, ISBN:297-17858-X
  • Taylor, A.J.P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918, Oxford History of Modern Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1954 & 1957.
  • Seton-Watson, Hugh, The Russian Empire 1801-1917, Oxford History of Modern Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1967 & 1988.
  • Craig, Gordon A., Germany 1866-1945, Oxford History of Modern Europe, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1978 and 1988.
  • Greger, René, The Russian Fleet 1914-1917, London, 1972, ISBN:7110-0255-X
  • Mee, Charles L. Mee, The End of Order – Versailles 1919, London, 1981.
  • Cassells, L., The Archduke & the Assassin, London, 1984, ISBN:0-584-11011-1
  • Gatrell, Peter, Government, Industry and Rearmament in Russia 1900-1914, Cambridge University Press, U.K., 1994, ISBN:0-521-45263-5
  • Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War - Explaining World War I, Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 1998.
  • Sinclair, David, Hall of Mirrors, London, 2001.
  • Fromkin, Professor David, Europe's Last Summer – Why the World Went to War in 1914, London, 2004.
  • Lee, John, The Warlords - Hindenburg & Ludendorff, London, 2005.
  • Nopper, Ryan, & Paul Wright, Austro-Hungarian Battleships 1914-1018, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, 2012, ISBN:978-1-84908-688-2
  • Sean Mcmeekin, The Russian Origins of the First World War, The Belknap Press at Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2013.
  • Clark, Christopher: "The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914", ISBN 978-0713999426
  • Benton L. Bradberry: The Myth of German Villainy, AuthorHouse, 2012, ISBN 978-1477231838 [454 p.]

In German

External Links


  1. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 37 million: over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 10 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.
  2. Schucking, Professor Walther, & Montgelas, Count Max, editors, Outbreak of the World War - German Documents Collected by Karl Kautsky, Oxford University Press, 1924,p.612-4, for the Austro-Hungarian-Romanian Treaty of Alliance of February 5, 1913, with the German Declaration of Accession, February 26, 1913. Also, the Italians were original members of the Central Powers, but declined involvement in 1914 on dubious grounds. Both Italy and Romania coveted various territories along their borders and were waiting to see which way they thought the war would go. A secret Italian-Romanian Accord dated September 23, 1914, pledged each state not to intervene without giving the other eight days warning.
  3. Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John, Brest-Litovsk – The Forgotten Peace - March 1918, 1966 reprint, London.
  4. Bassett, Richard, For God and Kaiser - The Imperial Austrian Army 1619 to 1918, Yale University Press, 2015, p.414-7. ISBN 978-0-300-17858-6
  5. Bassett, 2015, p.416-7.
  6. Fischer's allegations caused deep controversy throughout the academic world, particularly in West Germany. His arguments caused so much anger that his publisher's office in Hamburg was firebombed.
  7. Howard, Michael, The Franco-Prussian War, New York, 1961, ISBN:0-88029-432-9
  8. Bassett, 2015, p.417.
  9. Bassett, 2015, p.416-7
  10. Peterson,Professor H.C., Propaganda for War - The Campaign against American Neutrality 1914-17, University of Oklahoma Press, 1939.
  11. Cassels, L., The Archduke and the Assassin, London, 1984, p.75, where it give's Princips biographical details. He was baptised on the day of his birth, St. Gabriel's day, into a devout Serbian Orthodox family.
  12. Cassels, 1984, p.121.
  13. Austrian Red Book, April 1915, part vii
  14. The Serbian Blue Book, May 1915, no.39.
  15. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.149, no.100, Despatch from German Imperial Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg to the German Ambassador at St Petersburg, Paris and London, July 21, 1914.
  16. The Austrian Red Book, published by the American Association for International Conciliation, New York, April 1915.
  17. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, pps: 250-254, no.271
  18. The Serbian Book, published by the American Association for International Conciliation, New York, May 1915.
  20. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.364, no.425.
  21. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.354,no.408.
  22. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, pps: 266-272, nos.288-291, includes lengthy report and quotes from the principal Russian newspapers by Count Pourtales.
  23. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, pps: 303 & 347, nos.343 & 300.
  24. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.331, no.376A.
  25. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.372, no.441.
  26. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.360, no.420.
  27. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.315, no.359.
  28. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.327-8, no.373.
  29. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.428, no.535
  30. The Serbian Blue Book, published May 1915.
  31. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.283, no.311
  32. Serbian Blue Book, published May 1915, Minute of Dr.Spalaikovitch, Serbian Ambassador to Russia of 28 July, p.30.
  33. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.296-8, nos.333 Consulate at Moscow, 335A Consulate at Warsaw, 337 Military Attaché at Court in St. Petersburg.
  34. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.340, no.386.
  35. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.393, no.476
  36. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.391, no.473
  37. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.400, no.482.
  38. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, pps: 395 & 409, nos.479 & 499.
  39. The Austrian Red Book April 1915.
  40. Schucking & Montgelas, 1924, p.330-1, no.376
  41. Cited in What They Said At The Time by K.Freeman, D.Litt., London, 1945, p.38.
  48. Noppen, Ryan, Austro-Hungarian Battleships 1914-18, Osprey Publishing, Oxford, U.K., 2012, pps:28-30.
  49. Noppen, 2012, pps:31-4.
  50. The Battle of the Otranto Straits by Paul G. Halpern, Indiana University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-253-34379-8
  51. Noppen, 2012, p.34.
  52. The Russian Fleets 1914-1917 by René Greger, U.K., 1972.
  53. Shermer, 1973, p.98.
  54. Shermer, 1973, p.98.
  55. Shermer, 1973, p.99-100.
  56. Shermer, David, World War 1, London, 1973, pps:43 & 137, ISBN:0-7064-0245-6
  57. Buchanan, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., Sir George, My Mission to Russia Cassell & Co., London, et al, vol.ii, 1923, p.18-20.
  58. Lieven, Dominic, The End of Tsarist Russia, Viking pubs., New York, 2015, ISBN: 978-0-670-02558-9
  59. Hudson, Miles, Intervention in Russia 1918-1920, Leo Cooper pubs., Barnsley, Yorkshire, England, 2004. ISBN: 1-84415-033-X
  60. The End of Reparations by Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, New York, 1931.
  61. Germany Under The Treaty by William Harbutt Dawson, New York & London, 1933.
  62. Germany and the League of Nations by Professor Christoph M. Kimmich, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1976, pps:45 and 50-51.
  63. Survey of International Affairs 1925 - "The Islamic World" by Professor Arnold J. Toynbee, Oxford University Press, 1927.
  64. The Tragedy of Trianon by Sir Robert Donald, G.B.E., LL.B., London, 1928.
  65. Kimmich, 1976
  66. Geo G. Phillimore and Hugh H. L. Bellot, "Treatment of Prisoners of War", Transactions of the Grotius Society Vol. 5, (1919), pp. 47-64.